One of Nanci Griffith’s most beautiful songs, I Would Bring You Ireland, has been on my mind these days.
Saint Patrick’s Day has paled as a celebration for my family in the last decade or so, as we’ve realized it’s far less an Irish observance in this country than an Irish American celebration—the American version of what it means to be Irish.
This started when we learned that corned beef and cabbage, that quintessential Irish dish, would be unknown in most Irish households. A big slab of beef, corned or otherwise, would be unlikely on most Irish tables in those days. We’ve switched to more traditional, and simple, Irish dishes to mark the day (see A St. Patrick’s Day Dish: Colcannon).
As with most cultural perceptions common among Americans, our idea of “Irishness” has been shaped by the non-Irish. Despite the significant percentage of our population that comes from Irish immigrants we’ve allowed other Americans to provide our perceptions.
The most glaring example: nearly all the music we hear at this time of year. Most of the classic “Irish” songs—When Irish Eyes are Smiling and others—may be about the Irish, but they’re not Irish. If you look at the composers of the most commonly known Irish music (think virtually any Irish song Bing Crosby ever sang) you’ll see few Irish names, if any. The lyrics to the lovely Danny Boy were written by an Englishman! (The tune, Air from County Derry, a.k.a. Londerry Air does appear to be traditional Irish.)
Tin Pan Alley gave us most of the “Irish” music we know, not Ireland. This becomes obvious when one considers how these songs emphasize, if not provide, many of our most cherished stereotypes about the Irish.
This is why we’ve drifted away from the classic American Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. That, and a certain aversion to green beer . . . . Come to think of it, Patrick isn’t my favorite Irish saint anyway! (See Saint Brendan’s Day – May 16th.)
Not that we don’t celebrate! We thrive on celebrating almost anything and everything (see the essay Simple Living: Simple Celebrations in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm). We just don’t wear the shamrocks, sparkly green hats, or other Hallmark® products, or rush to the bar for green beverages.
This year, more than most, we’re celebrating our Irish heritage, because Aly leaves for Ireland at the end of the month. Her year-long college class will be in session in County Donegal for about a month. They’ll continue the year’s study of Irish language, history, culture, cooking, and music in daylong intensive sessions at a language retreat center there. She’ll also get a few weeks to explore the country on her own, with friends from her class.
When she won a seat in the class, offered once every three years, and requiring a rigorous application process, we told her that we would pay the extra costs of taking the class, about $4,000. Some of her relatives have also contributed cash to the project, for which we are extremely grateful. Aly’s frugal enough to bring a surplus from the class’s budget home, but these gifts provide a safety net that any parent would wish for a child. She’ll likely have the financial resources to rise above unforeseen difficulties. So, in a sense, Aly’s family are “bringing” her Ireland.
We’re—sorry, but I must say it—we’re GREEN with envy! I would give just about anything to go with her. That would be a dream come true. Even so, we wouldn’t do it. This is her adventure, and it wouldn’t be the same experience, wouldn’t have the same value, if her parents were to go along. We can only hope that we will go someday, preferably with our daughter as guide.
In the meantime, we’ll wait here at home for Aly to “bring us Ireland.”