Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and I didn’t have as much as a pint of Guinness or a drop of Jameson’s, or sing “The Parting Glass” at the end of a weekend music festival because (a.) it wasn’t about that kind of music and (b.) I never managed to learn the words. (I’ve never been a fan of Tullamore Dew, but I thought they did a charming job on that commercial, with its funereal humor at the end.) But, anyway, top o’ the morning-after to you…
I started writing this essay after a friend sent me a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day message last night, probably after seeing that I had posted a link to this other Irish song on Facebook… and he mentioned that he thought I looked more Scottish.
For me, the Scottish gene pool is more recent, why I’m “Robert Bruce” and put a family tartan (but a green one) as a backdrop on my stepno.com web page. My father’s much beloved mother was from Glasgow, but died when I was an infant. My mother’s grandparents were all Great Famine era Irish immigrants to Western Massachusetts farms, and she and her mother identified as Irish a bit, at least on the Catholic-and-wearing-green level, although the closest they’d been to the land of our ancestors was a four-sided family monument at our Massachusetts hometown cemetery that mentioned a famine-erased village in Co. Limerick. We did eat a lot of potatoes, and occasionally corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Our downstairs neighbor was a Northampton school principal named Ryan who knew her relatives in Ireland enough to get a pot of fresh shamrocks in the mail each spring, which impressed me. So as a kid going to Catholic schools I felt more Irish than anything.
Did you know I lived in County Mayo for 10 weeks researching an anthropology master’s thesis on making “elective ethnicity” choices with symbols like music, language, food, pop-culture, clothing, religion and visits to the “Olde country”? Music and language were the main themes of the thesis. I often wish I had done a better job and expanded it into something that I could publish. But that would have meant making it much more scholarly or much more personal. Coincidentally our cook for part of the summer in the house in Co. Mayo was Miss Ryan’s niece… from my old Hometown in Massachusetts, where it turned out her father had been mayor while I was growing up. (Add Massachusetts politics to my list of Irish cliches.) More recently someone shot a video of the Co. Mayo house and its surroundings, which brings back wonderful memories.
Coincidentally, many of the other Irish music and culture students I lived with that summer had fallen away from the Catholic religion in their twenties, but maybe not as far as I had fallen, never quite finding anything to replace it in the Upanishads or I Ching or old blues records. That is part of the reason I wasn’t at a funeral for a more religious acquaintance this weekend. I don’t think The Parting Glass would mean as much to his family and friends as the Bluegrass music he played, so it seems better to be part of a musical Memorial Gathering for him later this month, along with sharing a tip of the hat I created online (Timmy Mills, R.I.P.) in the form of a YouTube playlist. It was just a coincidence that I had already paid a few hundred dollars for tuition to the unrelated musical event I was attending on the weekend of the funeral.
For some reason I think of coincidences as Irish, and I do stumble on the lot of them. That 1981 trip to Ireland was my second and it was my 11-year-itch career change after my original Hartford Courant newspaper writing job, before I fell into college radio, then writing about computers, then back into magazine and newspaper/online journalism.
Hmm. I should dust off that thesis and write something more personal for publication. Today they call it an auto-ethnography… But I have so much else I’m not writing… maybe this is as close as I will get.