As a youngster, despite my pale face and freckles, immediate clues to my Irish heritage, I knew very little about my Gaelic ancestors.
My dad was of Irish descent; my mother's parents were from Scotland. I was familiar only with my mother's family, immigrants “right off the boat” from Glasgow. Grandpa and Nana had such thick Scottish brogues I rarely understood what they were saying, but I managed to absorb a bit of Scottish culture anyway. Grandpa told me Scottish ghost stories, and Nana made me the strongest tea in the world. I grew up a tea drinker, loved scones, and enjoyed Scottish mince and tatties (minced beef and potatoes).
Despite being exposed to Scottish culture, I gravitated toward my father's family, perhaps because they were sadly absent (it's a rare child that doesn't want what he/she can't have). My paternal grandmother passed away when my dad was just seventeen; my paternal grandfather died when I was six months old. All I knew of my Irish grandparents were their names: Margaret and Lawrence. The only photograph my father had of his “Pop” showed the elder to be a portly, little fellow with a tough expression. In fact, Lawrence looked quite like a saavy Irish leprechaun, and that's how I envisioned him.
I grew up wondering about my Irish roots. Who were Margaret and Lawrence? What was their story? Did I resemble them in any way? Had I inherited any physical qualities, talents, or personality traits from them? And just how Irish were they?
Years of dedicated genealogy research yielded some answers. How Irish were my paternal grandparents? Very. Margaret's parents came to New York from Ireland in the mid-1800s; her own father worked as a police officer in New York to support his nine children. As the daughter of Irish immigrants, it's very likely my grandmother had an Irish accent in her youth. My great-great grandfather, who could neither read nor write, came to the United States from Ireland in the early 1800s and worked as a gardener. He and his wife raised seven children, some of whom worked in the liquor business in New York (no Irish jokes, please!). The paper trail revealed my Irish and Scottish ancestors to be brave beyond my comprehension and steady, dedicated workers of various trades. I think of them all often, most especially on St. Patrick's Day.
Though I will never know if I resemble my Irish folk in any way, and though I am not solely of Irish descent, I reserve the right to consider myself an Irish lass. As such, allow me to leave you with a bit of Irish humor: “May those that love us, love us. And those that don't love us, May God turn their hearts. And if He can't turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we'll know them by their limp.”
Happy St. Patrick's Day!