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Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Irish in Marta


Yesterday I was approached by a reporter on the street. "Will you drink any green beer tomorrow for St. Patrick's Day?" It took me a second to realize she meant beer that was dyed green. I answered no, that I would probably drink regular beer, as I am too lazy to actually dye my beer a particular color. And it got me thinking, what does green beer have to do with Saint Patrick or the Irish? Lot's of European countries are home to rolling green hills - it's not a unique color. And the Irish flag is green, white, and orange. That's two other colors you have to drink with your green beer. And how did beer and whiskey come to symbolize the Irish people (along with boiled food)? Is that all the great Republic of Ireland can be epitomized by? Getting wasted and wearing green (so your vomit doesn't stain your shirt)?

I am one-quarter Irish, whatever way you slice it, and my daughter is a measly one-eighth. I am reminded of my Irish heritage anytime I fill out a form because my middle name - Carroll - come from that segment of my family. But my Irish forebears didn't come over the Atlantic Ocean blasting Pogues songs, getting wasted, eating Lucky Charms, and wearing green shamrocks on their cheeks.

Most of them showed up in North America between 1850 and 1860, during and after the great potato famine that turned the Irish foodstock into a black, inedible, toxic goo. In about 1850, Marta's great-great-great grandmother, Hannah Byrnes arrived in New York. She married Roger Carroll, from a an older Irish-American family. In 1860, her great-great-great grandfather Michael Murray arrived, from County Galway, and around that time her great-great-great-great grandparents, Patrick Collier and Margaret Delaney Collier, along with their daughter Catherine Elizabeth Collier, founded a new family in New York.

Meanwhile, Marta's great-great-great-great grandfather, John Menagh, of County Down, Ireland arrived in Ontario with his parents, John Menagh and Jane Gilmour Menagh.
These people were most likely not green-wearing alcoholics. They built something from nothing. The Murrays and Colliers founded a cotton brokerage in Manhattan. Hannah Byrnes' son Michael became a physician. And John Menagh's son Frank operated his own foundry in Canada. They epitomized the work ethic of the immigrant class. You can see immigrants today doing the same thing - working for less to get ahead.

They are all dead now. And their children too. The connection to Ireland has been diluted significantly, suffice to say nobody has every assumed that I was Irish based on my looks. They deserve to be remembered, and I am not sure how. St. Patrick's Day is as good as any.

Tonight we will eat boiled food and drink beer. It won't be green, and I am not wearing green today. But I will try to do my own small part to remember the ruddy, round people of the Emerald Isle that are still here, in some ways, even in me and Marta.

3 Comments:

Blogger andry said...

Happy man you are, really happy man. Knowing so much about your ancestors.

3:17 AM  
Blogger Martasmimi said...

Hey... you arrived home wearing a green shirt...accompanied by your Estonian wife (in green) and your 1/8 Irish daughter wearing all green.
I am sure that your Irish family in
Heaven was feeling extremely proud of their extended prodigy as they ate the traditional boiled corned beef and cabbage and enjoyed a few beers.
Thank you Epp for supporting our
Irish heritage...

6:24 PM  
Blogger Giustino said...

that's right - epp made me wear green :)

2:36 PM  

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