Sunday, March 10, 2013

On Being of Irish Ancestry

You don't have to be a detective to figure out that anyone using the pen name, "The Fighting Leprechaun" more than likely claims Irish heritage. Although my father's family never much discussed our background when I was growing up, one of my cousins gathered a substantial amount of genealogical information about our Irish ancestors, and shared it with me about four years ago.

Our Celtic family came from County Wicklow, which is in the southeast area of what is now the Republic of Ireland. They immigrated to Australia in the 1850s, not as convicts, but rather to homestead and farm. From there, the lure of the California Gold Rush brought the family to Northern California, which is where my grandfather, father, and I were born and raised.

I had several nicknames in junior high and high school, most of which were not very complimentary, but my favorite was "The Leprechaun". Maybe it was the combination of my diminutive stature, reddish-brown hair, and very ruddy complexion, or perhaps that I was always involved in some sort of shenanigans which earned me that nickname, as I do not have a last name readily associated with being of Irish heritage. When I became a cop, and was assigned to a detachment where everyone was assigned a nickname, once again I became The Leprechaun. (This was greatly preferable to the other tag my teammates gave me, "Bald Boinker", which was indeed intended to be flattering, but it's not the kind of handle a respectable deputy sheriff wants to be known by, right?)

I developed a great fondness for Irish music, food, and history, and on occasion sported a faux Irish brogue which some confused with a Swedish accent, but without a clear understanding of my Irish roots, I was just a phony "Eireaphile" (yep, just made that word up!) Once I learned that I did indeed come from legitimate Irish forefathers, I decided that I had better cement the deal by actually visiting Ireland.

Thanks to my supportive Spousal Unit, we were able to tour the Emerald Isle last September, said tour being documented in this blog with a small fraction of photos and narrative that we gathered there. Even more significant than actually walking the streets of Wicklow, and visiting the old Gaol where family legend has it that my great-grandfather was briefly incarcerated, was the connection to Ireland fostered by our tour guide, Stephen McPhilemy. Steve wasn't just our tour guide...he brought us through the secret door, taught us the secret handshake, and helped us see beyond the veneer that most tourists are limited to.

I was reminded of this connection to my Irish heritage last night, when I got the word that Steve and a fine fellow named Liam O'Riordan,  a retired Garda and most excellent singer/musician/songwriter, who I'd gotten to know in Kinsale, were at Kells Irish Pub in Seattle this weekend. Hanging out with these guys reinforced how unique the Irish are, and to be part of that is something I am truly grateful for. Make no mistake, I know that I'm not an actual Irishman, merely an American of Irish heritage, but the affinity and the bonds are there nonetheless. It feels very good.

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