Saturday, March 18, 2017

#SOL17 Being Irish 18/31

2017 is the tenth year of the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers, The goal is to write and post a "slice of life" story every day during the month of March. My seventh graders are also participating in a slimmed down version of the challenge, writing 10 slices during the month.

Slice of Life: Being Irish

I am Irish-American. My last name begins with "Mc," has two capital letters, and is never pronounced correctly on first glance. Both of my parents have 50% Irish ancestry, making that the biggest component of my ancestry (German & Swiss mix and compete for the other half).

I like to tell people that my hair is auburn (instead of just "brown"), which just about matches the color of my freckles and hazel eyes. My skin is so ridiculously pale, that I have been known to sunburn after spending half an hour outside in the spring time. (True story: on my first last-day-of-school as teacher, I got so sunburned during our morning Field Day activities that I had to wear the same outfit to school for our staff meeting two days later, just so my burn lines matched up and didn't get rubbed raw by a different neckline.)

But ... that's all I have.

As a kid, we celebrated St. Patrick's Day by dying our breakfast eggs and even the milk green. (I used to have to close my eyes to eat the eggs, honestly, it was such an awkward shade.) My mom made soda bread and cooked corned beef and cabbage in the slow cooker for dinner.

Now St. Patrick's Day comes, I dress up in green, and I'd fit right in at any celebration. But I don't feel Irish. My paternal great-grandparents were born in Ireland and came over some time in the mid-to-late 1800s. My maternal Irish ancestors came over earlier than that. I can't identify any family traditions or heirlooms or ancestral knowledge that has carried over from those times. (My current go-to soda bread recipe comes from All Recipes . com ... )

I feel some innate pride in being Irish, and I have always wanted to visit Ireland, but at times I wish there was something more. One of the reasons I wanted to do an immigration and family history unit with my seventh graders was to help them connect to their heritage and their families, for them to have an opportunity to learn and talk to the people who might not be around once they themselves are in their 30s and feeling melancholy.

It feels awkward complaining when being Irish (and very white) has given me so many privileges and advantages, both seen and unseen. But there's always that deeper longing to belong to something. Something older and bigger than just myself.

How do YOU connect to your family history and heritage? (Also, if I ever do plan a trip to Ireland, any must-see recommendations?)

(Click here to read my previous Slice of Life Challenge posts.)


  1. I loved reading about your heritage and appreciate everyone's stories, even my own. I could tell you about my heritage, but I think of myself as a true-blue American. Having lived overseas for quite a few years, having a dad who served in Vietnam, I love America! Thanks for the fun slice. I hope you didn't get too many more sunburns like the one in the slice! Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Thanks! I loved showing my students that "American" means so many different things and so many different people.

  2. I've always wanted to go to Ireland too! My dad's family is from England and my mom's from Poland. But there is a lot more mixed in there as well. You raise an interesting point about heritage -- is it becoming more diluted with each generation? I also have a desire to feel a connection to my past, but I'm not sure where that is. I have seen the ads on TV for the genetic testing through I've been curious and considering doing it. Hope you get to Ireland some day!

  3. Mostly Welsh here, some Scots. I do feel that Celtic vibe and have taught Táin Bó Cúailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) in comparative literature. That, the medieval history of Irish monks saving Western culture after the fall of Rome, and the darker history leading to Irish immigration are far more interesting than the holiday trappings that always make me think of Hobsbawm.

    How The Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Chahill

    And then there is the Táin Wall (mosaic mural) in Dublin.

    Interestingly, a major cycle in the Welsh epic is also about stealing cattle. Imagine that, cattle rustler epics.

    1. Cattle stories fit in well here in Wisconsin, ha!

  4. McK here and I relate to lots you wrote. I have been lucky to visit Ireland a few times, but do not feel "Irish", although I love Irish accents.

  5. I'm a first-generation Canadian with a pretty mixed background, and I remember as a child really longing to fit in somewhere, to have a culture that I could say is mine, that I could identify with and be proud of. Being the child of immigrant parents of immigrant parents makes it pretty hard to identify as anything in particular!


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