They say that everyone is Irish on St. Paddy’s Day! But I can truly claim that nationality. Two of my grandparents were born in Ireland. Online genealogies can provide us with the names of our ancestors but only our relatives can tell us stories about their lives.
Like most young people I had no interest in my roots until I was well into adulthood. By then my father had passed away so I could not ask him what he knew about his father’s life in Ireland and the migration of his parents to the United States. It appears that they had no connection to Brandon, Vt., where they settled.
My father was the youngest of 14 children, all born in the 1800s, but there was no written information on his family in any books or paper work that was left behind. Back in the 1980s my only living uncle was able to tell me that his father had come from Rathgormack, Ireland, and his mother from Manchester, England. Unfortunately, any other family members who might have known more took that information to the grave with them.
How appropriate for someone of Irish descent to celebrate their birthday on St. Patrick’s Day! That was the case with my mother. We always celebrated with a special cake decorated with shamrocks. Since my father was not one to bake a cake, I am sure a local bakery provided it. St. Paddy’s Day has always been a day to wear green clothing and a shamrock pin. My maternal grandmother was also from Ireland but I had never asked about that side of my Irish heritage. The only thing I knew was that her family settled in Wallingford, Vt., when they came to the United States. Once again, by the time I was old enough to be curious my mother had passed away.
I knew the celebration of my Irish heritage had transitioned from childhood rituals to adult celebrations when my senior college classmates went to The Mill in Winooski, Vt., for green beer. I didn’t want to admit that I hated it and nobody noticed that the level of beer in my glass hardly moved all night. It was obvious right away that the “Irish Thirst” gene was not in my gene pool!
In later adult years I recall Irish music being played all day on a Rutland radio station. Mike Harte was one of the local Irishmen who could be found on the air promoting Irish cheer.
Many people from my generation remember going to The Carriage Room on the corner of West and Cottage Street in Rutland for a St. Patrick’s Day sing-a-long with Kay Keefe. In her obituary she was referred to as the “Grand Old Dame.” That she was! Her daughters were often by the piano with her, decked out in Irish attire.
When my husband, Peter, and I were married there was an Irish blessing read at our rehearsal dinner. He became Irish by association.
In keeping with my Irish heritage I decided to cook corned beef and cabbage for Peter back in 1976. That was the first St. Patrick’s Day after we were married. This “Irish lady” doesn’t like corned beef but Peter, who doesn’t have a bit of Irish in him, loves it. He told me very politely that perhaps we should go out “next year” because “something” made it very salty. I guess that something was me! Eating out on March 17 has worked well for both of us during the last 40 years!
A cousin passed away several years ago and a few relatives received items from her jewelry box as a remembrance. I was pleased to see that my gift was a bright green shamrock with gold around the leaves and a gold stem. It has replaced the plastic shamrock that I had since my youth. This one has a special meaning and it will always be worn on St. Paddy’s Day.
If the time has not yet come for you to be interested in hearing about family roots and stories, perhaps you could ask a family member to jot down the information they have. Tuck it away in a safe place and some day you can take a look back at the lives before your own.
Now that St. Paddy’s Day is upon us take time to enjoy some Irish tunes as you sip green beer. Remember, everyone is Irish on March 17!