To be an Irish-American is, generally, to have pride in your Irish heritage. Often times ignoring the other ancestries you can claim. For example: I can boast as much or more English heritage, as much German as Irish (although I don’t have the family trees), and I’m told a little French and Dutch(?) although I find those suspect
But it has always been the Irish that has stood out in our minds. The folk songs, the mythical creatures, and St. Patty’s Day all stand out in my mind from my childhood. We never really mentioned the Staabs or the Rowes, but always claimed, loudly and proudly, the O’Hallorans. Even though the name has long ago been changed to Holloran, we made sure to ad that O’ for Irish emphasis.
I don’t think this is a strange attitude to have in America, either. There are more Irish-Americans then there are Irish in Ireland. And there is pride in it! Perhaps it where we came from in American history. Social pariahs. The unwanted ones prevailing to be perhaps the largest group of Euro-Americans in America (but don’t quote me on that).
Or maybe it is an Irish-extension of the prevalent American pride. American attitudes imposed on Irish heritage. Or, let’s face it, it comes about because Ireland is just damn cool.
But in Ireland, the attitude is very different. The trials are there. The knowledge of always having been poor (except that little boom, now gone), having starved, having been conquered again and again and again, having been slaves, and having been equally thought of indifferently as thought of as undesirable.
As an Irish-American, these things add greatly to the pride I have in my heritage. Look where my people have come from! Look how they have endured through time and with such an incredible culture intact!
But many a random soul in Ireland indicated (without provocation) that the attitude of the Irish is decidedly different. There is a head hung low. A mocking tone. An “Oh well. We are Irish. We know what it is like to constantly live trials. I guess we will just go on as per usual.”
This isn’t just one or two people. It was an incredibly prevalent attitude throughout our entire trip in the Republic of Ireland. It came out in unlikely places. They didn’t have to come from political or economic rants. They were just there. They were part of the Irish cultural identity.
The American in me didn’t understand. Always trying to better my culture. Always pushing to be the best. Always pushing to sustain a reputation worthy of my big American ego.
Where did the shift happen between Irish and Irish-American?
It goes to show that Irish-American isn’t Irish in anything but the names on our family trees and the peach undertones to our cream-colored skin (at least in my case).
Is this true for other-Americans? African-Americans? Most of them are as far, if not farther, removed from their ancestral homeland as the Irish. Can you quantify the similarities/differences between the continents? Hispanic/Latino-Americans? Asian-Americans? Many of them still have small communities within the larger American one or have recently immigrated so are not quite as far removed. But not all. Is it only a matter of time?
Maybe this is just what it means to be an Irish-American.
I cannot mourn the change as a loss. Cultures are constantly shifting in an ever-globalizing world. An ever mixing one. I can only muse over the realization of how disjunct I am from my past. And perhaps, in the end, those who’s families remained on the island are just as disjunct from their past as I am from mine. After all, Ireland hasn’t remained stagnant in time.
It must be like evolution. We share a common ancestry and long-ago history. But we have become two different cultures down our own separate evolutionary paths.