I received this some time ago from Patricia McLarnon Sahertian and have been a bit remiss posting it. Having said that it remained in my mind and a special thank you to Patricia for sending it…
‘I NEVER WANTED TO BE IRISH’
I never wanted to be Irish. My father’s parents were from Belfast. In 1929 my father was born in Canada as his family settled there before they made their way to New York in the mid 1930s. I never had any aversion to my dad’s family, it just seemed so ordinary. My mother was also an immigrant. She was raised in Greece. To me, because she spoke another language, it hinted of romance and ancient history. Her family seemed unique, with names like Anastasia and Demitria. My parents named me Patricia. Patricia McLarnon.
Growing up in my neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens I was an odd ball. Everyone on my block was Italian, except for Lydia Ross and family. I loved to go to her house because she ate peaches with sour cream, and beets. We ate what my dad loved. Roasts of meat and potatoes, separate side dishes of vegetables, white bread and lots of butter, sweet pastries from the bakery after church on Sunday mornings. Every night a cup of tea with milk. Everyone else ate pasta and sauce, meatballs and italian bread, scungilli and calamari.
My dad had never even tasted pasta or coffee until he met my mom. She wanted to please her man, and made mostly Irish fare. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, really. Get togethers with “the Irish”, as we called it in opposition to get togethers with “the Greeks”, revolved around banter and teasing, critiques of movies and current events, the adults drank beer and we all sat in the living room, playing verbal games with dictionary words and telling stories and laughing. If we kids got too bored we were allowed to go in the back bedroom and watch TV, but that rarely happened.
When we went to my “other” family there was shish-kabob and pastisia, baklava and galactoboriko, the men drank whiskey and gambled at cards all night, the room was filled with smoke and the children were relegated to playing with each other, not really interacting with the rest of the family, somehow it seemed strange and mysterious, I longed for its exoticism but I never looked the part.
As I got older I started to feel that I was really more Irish than Greek. I could relate to my dad, his wry sense of humor, his sarcasm, our shared New York accents. Somehow being Irish did not seem like a stigma anymore. I started to take pride in my stoicism and my freckles. I started to realize how much influence Ireland had on New York City. How its influx of Irish immigrants had made such an impact on the culture and society of New York, the city that I loved.
I started to read books about Ireland, fiction, non-fiction. I learned about the Great Hunger, the potato blight that almost killed a quarter of the population. The struggle for Irish Independence. The fierce pride and the terrible shame that the Irish people felt.
About eight years ago I was moved to become an Irish citizen. “Come back to Erin” played over and over in my head. My feelings about being irish had become transformed, I was motivated by it. And then my father died in 2005. In my grief I wanted nothing more than to feel a connection to make up for my loss.
After much paperwork, research and waiting my citizenship papers came through in 2006.
I attended some classes in Irish language and in 2008 my husband and I finally took the long awaited trip to Ireland. We stayed in a beautiful cottage just south of Dublin. We went to historical monuments, Kilmainham Gaol, New Grange and Monasterboice. I knew, but never really felt, the deepness of Irish history and the sense of ancient culture. We also made a pilgrimage to my grandparents’ town, Belfast. We ordered sandwiches that came on buttered bread with mustard, we stopped at a bakery and found my dad’s favorite raspberry glazed cake in the store window. I felt a nostalgia that cannot be explained. We found their houses, the church where they were married.
My grandpa grew up in Lurgan and we went there to search for old tombstones with my family’s name on them. We were directed to the Catholic cemetery, and noticed the great divide that is still apparent there. Outside St. Peter’s church, we randomly picked a stranger who seemed friendly and reminded me of my father’s sister, Mary, with her blue eyes and light hair. We asked if she knew of any McLarnons still around Lurgan. She did, and she took us personally to people who might be able to help me find some kin. It turned out that she was actually a relative, something we did not know until later, after exchanging some letters back and forth. Her grandmother and my great grandmother were sisters from the McConville family.
When I told her how friendly the Irish were, she said “not really, we really hate everything.” That almost stopped me cold as we walked the streets together, as my sister and I are often scolded for our quick quips of things we hate: a movie, a food, a restaurant, a novel. There is a running joke at my book club as they say “don’t listen to her, she just hates everything….”
So now I know I couldn’t be more Irish. I don’t think I could love a place that makes me feel so comfortable as Ireland or a people that I could connect with in such a profound way. I am sorry I couldn’t share this with my father. And sorry I did not get to know my grandparents more. But I am planning to know my Ireland, my heritage, my home.
And I wouldn’t want to be anything else.
by Patricia McLarnon Sahertian, 2010