I got a “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” e-mail from one of my vendors the other day. Part of the note follows verbatim; with some words and phrases modified to protect the vendor (can you find the typo?):
“I just wanted to take a moment to wish you a Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from myself and Company X. You will never need the luck of the Irish when you use Company X for your Bla Bla Bla needs. With such a strong commitment to Whoop Tee Doo and the ability to provide you with Bla Bla Bla with a La La La, it is no wonder that Company X is growing and moving in the right direction every month.”
I’ve never used this vendor; I’m not sure if I will. The note didn’t sit well with me and I’ve been tossing it around in my brain for the last three days trying to figure out what bothered me and what I wanted to say about it. I downloaded some songs by one of my favorite Irish bands, The Pogues, to try and help me sort through it and then I downloaded “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys. If you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, you can’t hear the opening bars of that song without seeing Jonathan Papelbon racing out of the bullpen. In fact, the song is a popular anthem for lots of sporting teams. You can read about them here.
The lyrics to this song were written by Woody Guthrie and start out like this:
I’m a sailor peg
And I’ve lost my leg
Climbing up the topsails
I’ve lost my leg
Today is a day that people celebrate “being Irish.” If you listen to the song lyrics from the Pogues or the Dropkick Murphys, you might get a sense that there is more to being Irish than being lucky, dancing a jig, drinking a beer, or watching a Red Sox closer throw a little leather-covered piece of cork. I would encourage you to explore the centuries of this “something more” and it’s always fun to do this by sailing beyond the horizons of Wikipedia.
There were very few Irish people in my hometown, or so it seemed. Most of the people I knew were either like my father (German) or like my mother (French-Canadian). Most of the other people were “Slovak.” It was not an unusual question to ask a friend “what nationality are you?” I remember asking the question of a second grade acquaintance as we walked down Plummer St. one day after school. She was Scottish, not German, French-Canadian, or Slovak. “Scottish” did not compute for me when I was in second grade because I was always around my own “clan” of sauerkraut making and eating people.
I recently found out that some of my father’s second grade acquaintances called him “Herman the German.”
There were Irish families in the neighboring small city and I had an Irish friend who lived there. It was interesting and comfortable to learn about her “clan” through her eyes and although I could not understand what it was like to be Irish, I had respect for her family’s “clannishness” and I liked eating corned beef at her house. She sent me a St. Patrick’s Day card once.
As I got older and moved closer to Boston, I met a lot more Irish people. I loved learning their family stories because they were like mine, full of struggle, hard times, and joy. One friend told me how his great-grandmother had been a maid at a Boston hotel in “the old days” and his great-grandfather had helped to lay the cornerstone of some famous Boston buildings. It wasn’t the right use of the expression, but we laughingly referred to a hangover as “the troubles.”
Some people refer to the town I live in right now as “the Irish Riviera” although it didn’t make it onto the official list.
I once asked a really wise person whether he thought people were naturally clannish. He said “Absolutely. If you tell a child they are Finnish, they will gravitate to and appreciate Finnish culture, even if they are Swedish.”
This is not a controversial blog about history, politics, or theology although I do read blogs on these topics. It’s a happy gardening and story-telling blog, but some days not exclusively. I love history and I love stories. I want to learn, remember and write as many stories of my own clan as I can, but not just this year’s story. I’d also like to know more stories about gardeners and farmers. I want to know the whole story, which is a long, long story and probably not easily summed up in a quaint phrase like “the luck of the Irish.”
If I were Irish, I don’t think I would participate in today’s celebration in any typical way because there is more to the Irish clan than what will be sliced up, dyed green, and packaged for immediate consumption. The wearing of the greenback is unpleasant to me, but as I said earlier, this is not a controversial blog and I’m not Irish. I respect and admire the Irish clan and some things are just not for sale.
If you are Irish today, I salute you. Know your clan and go in Peace.