‘TIS A PALE STORY, AND GREEN!

English: engraving of 'Emigrants leaving Ireland'
English: engraving of ‘Emigrants leaving Ireland’ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it was early yet in my grade-school days when someone in the family, I suspect one of my parents, divulged to me that we were Irish.  Well, okay, better make that: IrishAmerican.  I “got” that it was supposed to be a good thing to be, and I thought I knew what being American meant from saluting the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but the Irish bit didn’t ring my bells just yet.  I could read a map and spin a globe, though, so… yup, found it: Ireland was a tiny isle west of Great Britain – the “Emerald Isle”, which even I knew meant it was… green.

Seemed to me, at that tender age, like a strange thing to care about, especially since we had never been there, so far as I knew – of course, I could have slept through a visit, but if that happened, then I would have seen piles of photos of the place.  (I thought we were Vikings, because “Eric the Red” was a Viking… well, more on that later.)  I knew my parents had vacationed in Bermuda, but that wasn’t the same, and besides, I hadn’t gone with them.

Comes middle school; I’m, like most teens, trying to work out my part in the bigger play, living in California, where an “indoor complexion” (eventually, I did learn to call it a “moon-burn”) seemed like a character flaw to the sun worshipers in my student community, but some people don’t tan, we burn, because we’re so “fair”, which for me meant pale.  (I once looked like a surfer kid, with vanilla hair and copper skin, but that came from having been out in the  summer heat in Texas, when I was 9, 10 at most.)

High school, and I’m keen on it, at last, to a degree that amuses my friends, even now.  Some of my friends proclaimed themselves Scottish and/or Welsh and/or English, and I was the Irish one, even though we lived beside the Pacific Ocean, not the North Atlantic.  These are sub-sets, because we were considered various flavors of Celts, who – it works out – sprang from Spain, and then intermingled with Normans, whose ancestors in France and elsewhere were… Vikings – I was partly right!

University life in Texas, and I’m reading a pile of library books, from the Irish section, one summer: the mythological stories of Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cool, histories of multiple invasions, poems by William Butler Yeats, short stories by James Joyce.  I had wanted to visit England for a million years (okay, that’s a slight exaggeration), so I figured it out that I should, if presented with the opportunity to do so, fit a side trip to the Auld Sod, too.  A coach (bus) and a ferry boat later, I watched Dublin harbor swallow us whole, and it… floored me, just how moving and emotional the experience was.  It all happened on the twenty-ninth of July, thus my posting this today.

We ran around, ate and drank, gave money to street musicians, the full-on tourist thing, but I think I felt “there” more than my non-Celtic schoolmates did.  (I had also met an Irish girl at my university in London… but ’tis a story for another time.)  In one pub I thanked the bar staff for the “Foreign Visitors Welcome” sign, only to be told by one friendly guy: “Yanks aren’t foreign to us.”  I don’t know if he was speaking for all of Ireland, or just that particular establishment, but given that something like 100 million people have emigrated from Ireland to the United States (and Britain, and Canada, and Australia, and South Africa, and what do you know, Bermuda), I just thanked him again, as a “local” for that night, and ordered another pint.

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