Half-Irish Blues

I grew up believing I was Scottish (which is a bit daft because I was born and raised in Canada, as were both sides of my family for three generations) but when I was 30-something (probably years of age) my maternal grandmother was ranting about my Irish heritage. What does this have to do with me? “Didn’t anyone ever tell you, Evan? The ancestors of both of your grandmothers were from Ireland.”

Proud to Be Irish, flag

Suddenly a deep dark family secret came to light: I was not simply, as I’d always been told, a descendent of pale redheaded people who tended sheep and subsisted on oats and whisky in the northern part of the island of Britain, I was every bit as much a descendent of pale redheaded people who tended sheep and subsisted on potatoes and whiskey in the northern part of the island of Ireland! In an instant, my self-image was tossed in a raging wind of uncertainty!

In my bewilderment and rage, I went ’round the pub and drowned my sorrows in beer after beer. At closing time, as the bartender was rolling me out the door he said, “What are you, Irish?” And suddenly I understood. I’m a double Celt half-breed.

irish yoga

Now, instead of being woefully ignorant of Scottish Gaelic, my burden is doubled by my ignorance of Irish Gaelic. I’ll have to fill my sporran with potatoes. And it won’t be easy playing the bagpipes with one arm and the bodhrán with the other. Half the time I would otherwise have devoted to trying to comprehend Robbie Burns’ Address to a Haggis must henceforth be devoted to trying to fathom James Joyce’s Ulysses. And now my options seem to be limited in religious matters, much as in Canadian politics, to only two possibilities: the orange or the green. But what is presented as black and white is all grey to me.

Only sometimes can I distinguish whether an accent is Irish or Scottish, or whether a foxy redhead is a bonnie lassie or a pretty Colleen. And I’m less expert in matters of Mc and Mac than people have come to expect of me.

Fortunately, there is an easy way out of my dilemma. Based on my appearance, people often ask if I’m German. Since I speak more German than Gaelic anyway, henceforth, I should just reply, “Ja”.

Am I Scottish or Irish? Nein!

Scottish or Irish? Nein!

Whatever you consider yourself to be, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to you!

Please also read my brief and rather silly St Patrick’s Day article http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/March-2013/Seven-things-all-Torontonians-should-know-about-Ireland-for-St-Patricks-Day/


Filed under cross cultural understanding, geography, perspective, tradition

8 responses to “Half-Irish Blues

  1. Paul

    Ha! Evan, I had a similar identity crisis myself a few years ago. My father grew up in northern Quebec and of course we all believed we were good old québécois. Then a relative started nosing around at a cemetery and we came to learn that we are actually descended from an Irish orphan, many of whom came to Quebec in the famine when they couldn’t make babies fast enough over here. I guess I’m double dosed on the Catholicism/guilt.

    • Irish and Québécois? I can only imagine you have known your share of separation anxiety!

      Top o’ the mornin’ to you, Paul! (Hey look, my tea is green. Does this mean something?)

  2. S

    I am picturing a leprechaun with a light saber staring at me, if you know what I mean…

  3. Alexandra Watson Mendis

    I liked this one.

  4. AG

    Luckily, there’s the Scottish Irish Festival for all redheaded, pale skinned, sheep tending people regardless of penchant for whisky or whiskey. Germans are likely welcome as well but one can’t be sure. http://www.trentonscottishirish.com

  5. Marcus

    Slightly off topic, but I had a co-worker from the States whose father was from the U.S. and whose mother was from Canada. He used to tell his students he was mixed-race. Some of them would nod and say, “ohhhhhh”.

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