In the multiculturalism of Canada, all of us can celebrate what we were while taking our place in the unified mosaic of what we might all become. It sounds wonderful in theory but for me, it wasn’t that easy. You see I am Irish – born and raised there and exported to Canada in my early twenties.
When I arrived I probably did not match most people’s expectations of Irishness as I did not have red hair and I did not wear a little green bowler nor carry a shillelagh. I never uttered the phrase; ‘Faith and Begorrah,’ and I couldn’t Riverdance to save my life. Nor did I use ‘Irish Spring’ toiletries as I never heard of them until I came here. Back in the auld sod I used ‘Old Spice’ and ‘Lifebuoy.’
When I got off the plane in Malton, I was under pressure from the beginning. Ireland’s contributions to Canada were many; both great and small. I was following in the footsteps of the likes of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, who Wikipedia describes as: an Irish Nationalist, Catholic spokesman, journalist, and a Father of Canadian confederation. He fought for the development of Irish and Canadian national identities that would transcend their component groups.
Less well remembered was Patrick J. Whelan who was accused and hung for the murder of the aforementioned McGee and who gave Canada its first, and to date, only political assassination. That some say Whelan was framed is the point I am trying to make. When you are Irish you come with certain expectations regardless.
I am reminded of this every year on the eve of Sheila’s day – or as most people would say: Saint Patrick’s Day. (Note: short form is St. Paddy’s Day and never St. Patty’s Day which is, as far as I know, some hamburger chain’s promotion of green meat and probably should be avoided!)
Every year, on the 17th of March, Canadians of all colours and stripes dress up in green and act a little foolishly, in a manner they presume to be Irish. I am offended by that. Most real Irish people of my acquaintance would never do things in such fashion and when acting foolishly would do it on a grand scale – like bailing out a bankrupt banking system or lining up in their thousands to welcome Brian Mulroney to Dublin. (But, in defence of my race, we did refrain from hosting the ‘Shamrock Summit’ that featured Mulroney and Ronald O’ Reagan warbling through ‘When Irish eyes are smiling!’)
For many years I played music in Irish bars and for Irish Musicians, Saint Patrick’s Day was like Christmas – Green Christmas. Every bar in town wanted Irish Musicians and we could actually make some money – the green that makes all eyes smile!
My adventures playing music in Irish bars were many and I hope a few will find their way into my second novel but one is worth mentioning in this context. During a break we were approached by a swaying bleary-eyed young student type who insisted on buying us a round of green beers despite the fact that we were drinking Guinness – a dark stout. Burdened as we were by the strict rules around accepting hospitality we drank his beer as we listened to him ramble on about his Irishness. He was, he assured us: “One 64th Irish blood on his great-great grandfather’s side.” We advised him to avoid nosebleeds and went back to singing about Unicorns and Whiskey in the Jar.
It is the curse of my race that we are burdened by images of Leapin’ Leprechauns and crocks of gold; drunken pishogeries and beguiling charms that we learn in school at the behest of the Irish Tourist Board – to lighten the purses of dollar laden visitors!
The reality is very different and this was one of the driving forces behind my first novel Lagan Love. Through it I wanted to let the reader wander the streets of Dublin, back in the nineteen-eighties, before the Celtic Tiger came and changed everything. I wanted to let the reader in on a way of life that tolerated the future while suffering the past. Check it out – you might like it.