I can hear my Irish Grandma saying, “Well, faith ‘n be glory!” I never clearly understood it’s meaning for it was used as both an exclamation of delight or sometimes great frustration. However, I loved the Irish brogue both she and my mother would adopt whenever they loudly declared it.
Growing up in a predominantly Irish-Catholic community, and being a descendant of one-hundred-percent Irish blood on my mother’s side, St. Patrick’s Day was a very important planned-for and participated-in event.
On several occasions, my dad and brothers grew beards, donned green top hats, and wore green vests (handmade by my mom), in order to participate in the upcoming city-wide celebration. My sister and I were part of a group called the O’Neill Irish Dancers, and wore white pinafores over green Irish Washerwomen dresses with white petticoats and white pantaloons underneath. (Pantaloons look like the lower under-garments the girls in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” wore while singing “Oh, they say when you marry In June “)
Every year a giant green shamrock was painted in the center of our main street. I danced Irish jigs on that shamrock every St. Pat’s Day for 12 years. We danced in snow flurries, on beautiful spring-like days, when freezing drizzle dripped from the sky and when the wind chill factor made it feel as if it was below zero. Though we never took the oath of a mailman, our dedication to dance on that day was just as deep. After all, how could St. Patrick’s Day be celebrated without Irish Dancers and their jigs?
Once the dancing was completed the parade would begin, and quickly we would change into band and majorette uniforms, race to where the band was waiting, and take our places. Lined up in front of us would be a green horse ridden by a man with a green beard, a green hat, and a green vest. There were green pigs, green chickens, green people, green clowns, green dogs and green beverages that were attributed to making the mood very carefree and crazy!
As stated before, my heritage is Irish. Each year on St. Patrick’s Day, the memory of this celebration — as unorthodox as it was — has caused me to remember, not just this celebration, but the stories my grandma used to tell me.
Stories of a group of Irish people who traveled West together and settled near the Elkhorn River in the central part of Nebraska. Tales of how her grandparents earned their land by homesteading, and the Irish relatives who came over “on the boat” and came West to live and settle with them. Having heard her tell these stories when I was a child, I could not comprehend how amazing it was, that my Irish ancestors survived the “Great Famine”, the boat ride across the ocean, and the treacherous travel to the West, to settle together on a homestead and make a life for themselves in a land far from what they had ever known.
With the passing of years and greater understanding, these memories have made me appreciate and hold in high regard those who risked their lives to come here. They have caused me to consider the bravery, commitment and strength of my ancestors — and upon considering, wonder — had it been me who needed to leave Ireland, would I have risked it? Would I have been as brave? Would I have been able to see beyond myself and set out with such deep determination to save my family and provide a future? I am only left to wonder . . . and hope . . . that the values of those who have gone before me, passed from one generation to the next until at last . . . they found their way to me!
Now the decision rests with me . . . will I be brave, committed and strong? Will I pass these values to those who follow me? My hope is that I have and that I will!