Top o’tha murnin’ to ya. Do ya seek ta kiss the ol’ Blarney stone? Well may the road rise ta meet ya! Watch out for the leprechauns: they’ll be lookin’ to put the mockers on ya, says I. Don’t forget to stop by the pub on yer way out. They be servin’ some o’ the finest green Bud Light these old eyes have evar seen.
…Right. These are the sorts of tropes to which Murphy and O’Dea refer to in their book The Feckin’ Book of Everything Irish: A Gansey-Load of Deadly Craic for Cute Hoors and Bowsies as “Amer-Irish” or “Oirish”; in fact, here it is straight out of their book:
(see also ‘Blarney’)
Mythical language and culture used by Americans and British when portraying Irish people (e.g.) “Top o’ de mornin’ te ye, be de hokey. D’ye happen te know, me good sir, where I’d be findin’ a leprechaun dis fine day, at all, at all?” (82).
Of course, this is coming from a book meant to educate and entertain Americans with bits of Irish slang, pop culture, ballads, and even recipes. It was also the 2007 Benjamin Franklin Award Winner for Best Humor Book, and rightly so. There’s no better way to be introduced to Irish culture (beyond wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day) than with humor: humor is how the people have survived under centuries of foreign rule, oppression, famine, and more.
This is why I refuse to get angry with the typical American pseudo-empathy with the Other when St. Patrick’s Day comes around. I don’t yell at people when they go on about drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day because they in fact chiefly drink stouts (leann dubh in Irish) more than anything else. Instead, I see St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to become aware of Ireland, and every American should be aware of Ireland. According to an article on Ancestry.com, at least 12% of the United States (37 million people) have Irish ancestry (which is actually eight times the population of Ireland itself!).
While, sadly, one must dig more deeply beyond what is typically offered in high school history text books, it is not too difficult to find out just how profound of an impact the Irish had on a developing America and, conversely, how deeply the immigrated Irish were impacted by the Americans when they landed in droves in mid-19th century New York. But you have to dig for it. You have to see passed the Irish Spring soap commercials and pots of gold at the end of rainbows. For example, a little bit of research and an attentive ear could quickly detect that modern Country music–a genre widely celebrated as American, is actually the grandchild of Irish folk music.
The family tree of this musical line goes something like this: Irish Folk Music > [immigration to America] > Bluegrass and Appalachian Music > Country Western. Granted that Bluegrass is a synthesis from other cultures as well, here is a way that Irish culture underscores something that is a paradigm of the American spirit, yet most Americans are completely unaware of this. If you don’t believe me, listen and see for yourself in the video at the end of this article.
The voices of Ireland had been muted in their own country for centuries–it would be a shame if their voices continued to be muted in America. So by all means, wear green, drink green Bud Light, and tell your friends “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” I just hope that the pseudo-empathy in doing so awakens the Irish spirit within and inspires you to convert pseudo-empathy into a real interest into a real people, a real culture, a real country, and a real influence on America. I leave you with one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets who didn’t forget about the Irish in America.
Far hence, amid an isle of wondrous beauty,
Crouching over a grave, an ancient, sorrowful mother,
Once a queen—now lean and tatter’d, seated on the ground,
Her old white hair drooping dishevel’d round her shoulders;
At her feet fallen an unused royal harp,
Long silent—she too long silent—mourning her shrouded hope and heir;
Of all the earth her heart most full of sorrow, because most full of love.
Yet a word, ancient mother;
You need crouch there no longer or the cold ground, with forehead between your knees;
O you need not sit there, veil’d in your old white hair, so dishevel’d;
For know you, the one you mourn is not in that grave;
It was an illusion—the heir, the son you love, was not really dead;
The Lord is not dead—he is risen again, young and strong, in another country;
Even while you wept there by your fallen harp, by the grave,
What you wept for, was translated, pass’d from the grave,
The winds favor’d, and the sea sail’d it,
And now with rosy and new blood,
Moves to-day in a new country.
-“Old Ireland” by Walt Whitman
Craig BernthalMarch 17, 2012 at 10:49 am
Seeing the scenery on these Transatlantic Sessions gives me the itch to get to Ireland.
The stuff I’ve got posted on Donegal fiddling shows that “aural” transmission of the fiddle tunes kept them changing and developing from generation to generation even in Ireland, so the American amalgamation of Scots, Irish, and whatever other strains was the natural progression of Celtic music in both America and in the British Isles. No big puzzles, as the man in the video says.
Jeremiah HenryMarch 17, 2012 at 11:35 am
That’s one of the aspects of Folklore as I understand it: “Artifacts that are variable and transmitted through space and time by the ‘common folk'” – by that definition, if the art didn’t vary from performance to performance, it wouldn’t be folklore.