No. I am not “racially pure” and I’m damn happy about it. This weekend is special for my family, always has been, as long as I can remember. It is St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t believe we’ve ever celebrated the day because of the saint, himself; the day is a celebration of our roots and what our ancestors continue to mean to us.
I have a lot of Eire running through my veins and it runs along with Ukraine, Scotland, Wales and Austria. The Irish side was fiercely nationalist. Truth be told, my grandfather hated the British. Hated everything British. His family fled Ireland during the famine. Something he believed was forced on Ireland by the British. He loved St. Paddy’s Day. Wore the green, he did.
Being a Canadian – St. Paddy’s Day is not rooted in Irish nationalism. Ireland isn’t my nation. Canada is my nation. St. Paddy’s Day is a time when I am reminded of what my family means to me. Past and present. I am reminded of the sacrifices made by my ancestors; leaving their home, their family, villages where their ancestors had lived for, perhaps centuries. Leaving all that was familiar in order to survive. During the famine, to stay in Ireland was to sicken and die. So, they found their passage, in the bowels of ships, amid filth and sickness, to a world that was not just culturally foreign; everything about this new world would be foreign. The geography, the climate, the culture and the languages…there would be no warm welcome. They were “Micks” – drunken Irish fools…Dogans. Looked down upon and treated like garbage. But, with true Irish will and heart, they persevered. My family took up residence on the very eastern tips of Newfoundland; worked as carpenters, as fishermen, whalers and sealers. They caught cod and salted it on the shore. Risked their lives amid the ice floes and bergs and survived. My grandfather was a cabin boy on a whaler; he sailed down around Cape Horn, prayed during storms and worked as waves threatened to break the ship in two.
When he was 19, World War I was raging. He fought at the Somme. He saw his best friend decapitated in the trenches. Rats eating the dead. He was gassed twice – sent back on the line; then shot, back to the line – shot again, this time he was sent back.
He did all of this and whether he knew it or not; he did it for me, he did it for my children and my children’s children. He instilled a love of Ireland in me, through the folklore, through tradition. I can’t hear Irish music without my feet taking on a life of their own, although at this stage in the game, the feet are willing – the rest of the body? Not so much.
I see pictures of Ireland and I feel a totally inexplicable yearning to be there. I want to smell the air, I want to feel the country under my feet. A totally illogical “want” but there you go.
So tomorrow, I will be raising a glass to the Cooks, to the Rices, to the McLellans and the Smiths; thanking them for everything that I enjoy because of their sacrifice.