Mychal Judge, was an American Franciscan friar and Catholic priest who served as a chaplain to the FDNY. While serving in that capacity he was killed, becoming the first certified fatality of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Irish-American Father Mychal Fallon Judge O.F.M. was the first official certified fatality of the nearly 3,000 people that perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He was the chaplain for the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY). He was the first of 343 firefighters that lost their lives that day. It is said that he went first to lead his flock.
This is the unique story of a man considered by many to be a Saint
The FDNY always had a reputation for being “heavily Irish”; the Irish-American firefighter was even more stereotypical than the Irish-American Police Officer in New York. Father Judge fit in well with that. He was born Robert Emmett Judge in Brooklyn, New York on 11 May, 1933 to parents from Co. Leitrim. In 2005, a monument in his memory was unveiled in Keshcarrigan, Co. Leitrim, whence his father came. His mother, Mary Fallon came from Drumkeerin, Co. Leitrim. Some people have claimed miraculous healing through prayers to Fr. Judge. Some have called for sainthood for him.
BLACK 47 – MYCHAL
In tribute to his legacy and in celebration of his life Larry Kirwan of the legendary Irish-American band Black 47, wrote this beautiful tribute entitled ‘Mychal’ in his honour that appeared on the band’s 2004 album New York Town.
In New York City I made my home
I loved the streets, the very stones
Cared for my comrades, cherished my friends
Loved all beginnings, had no time for ends
A city’s streets are full of woe
I saw suffering where’er I’d go
I did my best to console and heal
Treat each human with full dignity
I never saw a reason to
Hate someone who thinks different than you
Each one has their anointed place
In the love reflected in their God’s face
We all have sorrow, our share of trials
We all are sinners in each other’s eyes
Love alone can heal the pain
God bestows love in so many ways
I love the company of friends
The fire and the music sparkling in their eyes
But I achieved my heart’s desire
When I rode beside the ones who fight the fires
I have my failings and I have tried
To look them squarely in the eye
To be there when someone might call
For I know cruel well how hard it is to fall
As I arise on this September morn
The sun is beaming down, the streets are warm
God’s in His heaven and all is well
Famous for a string of hits during the 1970’s and early 80’s proud Irish-American Eddie Rabbitt was one of the most popular Country singers of his era. Here Kevin Rooney introduces us to his life and music.
Eddie Rabbitt was a popular Irish-American Country singer best known for a string of hits in the late ‘70’s-early ‘80’s like ‘I Love A Rainy Night’, ‘Drivin’ My Life Away’, ‘Step By Step’, ‘Every Which Way But Loose’ from the movie of the same name starring Clint Eastwood and ‘You and I’ with Crystal Gayle.
Edward Thomas Rabbitt was born in Brooklyn, New York on 27 November 1941 to Irish immigrant parents. He was raised in East Orange, New Jersey. His father, Thomas Michael Rabbitt worked in an oil refinery in Newark, NJ. He and Eddie’s mother Mae (née Joyce) emigrated from Co. Galway in 1924. His father played fiddle and accordion in Irish dances in New York City. Eddie followed in his musical footsteps. Although his genre of choice was Country music, Eddie once said:
“There were a lot of Irish immigrants who came and settled in the South. My father played fiddle and the accordion. Irish music got mixed in with old- time gospel and New Orleans blues to make up what country is today. A lot of country tunes have that old Irish folksy sound.”
Eddie later moved to Nashville, Tennessee and wrote songs for Elvis, and Ronnie Milsap, among others. He recorded ‘Song Of Ireland’ for his Variations album in 1978. The song is his expression of his yearning and feeling for Ireland, where he had never been. The fiddle part in the song is played by his father.
EDDIE RABBITT – ‘Song Of Ireland’
I remember daddy playing on the violin,
Jigs and reels that he brought from Ireland.
And I’m the first born in America, my friend.
I have never been there but someday I’ll take a trip.
I’ll cross the ocean on a big long silver ship.
Hear them sing those songs I learned from Mama’s knee
I just close my eyes and I can almost see,
Those shamrock hills and those forty shades of green.
And the roots that tie me to a land I’ve never known
Are calling me home, are calling me home.
Sun shines through my window here in Tennessee.
God sure made this a pretty place to be.
But sometimes it just don’t feel like home to me.
So I close my eyes and I can almost see
Those shamrock hills and those forty shades of green.
And the roots that tie me to a land I’ve never known
Are calling me home.
Are calling me home.
Are calling me home.
Eddie Rabbitt died on May 7, 1998, in Nashville, tragically young from lung cancer at only 56. So proud was he of his Irish heritage that his headstone at Calvary Cemetery in Nashville was emblazoned with a shamrock and a guitar.
“Of all the Irish-American towns in America, it had to be a Rockaway guy that wound up in the middle of the bloody battle at the Post Office”
Often on these pages we have spoken of the Easter Rising. A somewhat mythical event doomed to failure when heavily outnumbered Irishmen and women rose up against the full might of the most powerful empire in the world. Even now over 100 years later it remains an event unparalleled in Irish history. The rebellion began on Easter Monday and the spark would soon ignite a nation and it’s people.
Here our friend ‘cross the broad Atlantic’ Kevin Rooney writes of the involvement in the Easter Rising of one John Kilgannon, better known as ‘The Yank’.
JOHN ‘THE YANK’ KILGALLON
The Rebel Of The Rising From Rockaway
John Aloysius Kilgallon was born in Queens, New York on September 5, 1891. His father Luke came from Coogue, Co. Mayo. His mother Nora (née) Walsh came from Knock, Co. Mayo. The family lived in Far Rockaway. His father ran a blacksmith shop, which became a successful auto repair shop on Beach 19th Street. He also owned Real Estate. John was their only son.
On 20 August, 1912 John attended a Chauffeur’s Ball in the Imperial Hotel in Far Rockaway. He took a customer’s car from his father’s garage without permission to give his friends a ride home on a rainy night. Ten young people were piled in the car when it struck a farm wagon in the Springfield Gardens neighbourhood in Queens at 2am. Seventeen year old Cecelia Wellstead was crippled after being thrown from the car. She initiated a lawsuit against John for $50,000 amid much publicity. She was awarded $20,000 by Justice Scudder of the Queens County Supreme Court. In the meantime between the accident and the judgement, John had gone to Ireland.
It is believed the family attended a speech given by Pádraig Pearse at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on March 2, 1914. It was attended by about 2,500 people despite being in the midst of a terrible snowstorm. Pearse was on a speaking tour to raise much needed funds for Scoil Éanna/St. Enda’s School in Rathfarnham, Dublin. It was a secondary school for boys emphasising Irish cultural identity; particularly history, mythology, poetry, and most especially the Irish language. Pearse believed passionately that the existing system of education sought to eradicate Irish identity in favour of obedience to Britain.
(‘Easter Mourn’ by In For A Penny. Beginning with the words of Patrick Pearce)
Pearse’s speech was for an annual commemoration of Robert Emmet marking his birth on 4 March, 1778. The young, courageous and eloquent Irish rebel martyr, who was hanged in 1803; holds a place in the hearts of all Irish patriots, but especially that of Pearse. In fact, St. Enda’s site in Rathfarnham, Dublin was much associated with Emmet. The school was relocated there in 1910 from Ranelagh; where it was founded in 1908. Emmet walked its grounds as he courted Sarah Curran, and sat in the same room and was inspired by the same scenery as Pearse a century later. Along with much needed funds to keep the school running, he returned to Dublin with a young Irish-American student from Brooklyn named Eugene Cronin. Pearse wrote to a friend in July, 1914:
“I have got another Irish-American for next term. His name is Kilgallon, his father owns real estate in Far Rockaway and he is quite a young man. He will rank as a university resident.”
Kilgallon is said to have been well-liked and to have thrived in this environment, which included honor and discipline of an increasingly military nature; as well as academics.
Photograph of John ‘The Yank’ Kilgallon in what looks like a Fianna Eireann uniform at St. Enda’s, Maundy Thursday, 1916.
Kilgallon appears to have belonged to Na Fianna Éireann youth organization, and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), an oath-bound organization dedicated to establishing an Irish Republic by force. He was closely associated with many fellow students who shared this joint membership and was photographed in a Fianna uniform. He became a member of E Company, 4th Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. The company was called “Pearse’s Own” as it contained his former students. They made preparations for the Rising by making grenades, filling cartridges with shot, and making batons.
On Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, E Company arrived at the rebel headquarters at the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street. Kilgallon, who was nicknamed ‘The Yank’ was quoted by Desmond Ryan to have exclaimed in his American accent:
“Holy Gee! This ain’t no half-arsed revolution! This is the business. Thousands of troops and siege guns outside. The whole country is ablaze. Twenty transports are coming in when the submarines have sunk the rest of the warships. We have our own mint. Light your pipes with Treasury notes and fling all but the gold away. When we do things, we do things.”
After reading the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, Pearse ordered them to take up positions on the roof; where they fired and were fired upon by British troops, and took artillery fire from the British gunboat Helga, positioned in the Liffey. Among his comrades there was Éamonn Bulfin, who was born and raised in Argentina. It was Bulfin who raised the green “Irish Republic” flag on the roof of the GPO. Bulfin later remembered: “One of the pictures that stands out in my mind, is seeing Kilgallon running round on the roof trying to stop fires.” Kilgallon was also said to have saved Bulfin’s life by pulling him from a window in the GPO, which was under heavy fire.
(The most famous of all the many Easter Rising songs ‘The Foggy Dew’ played here by The Chieftains with Sinead O’Connor. It was written by Father (later Canon) Charles O’Neill from Portglenone, County Antrim)
Kilgallon is also remembered for a humorous event that occurred during the week. E Company members crossed Henry Street into Henry Place and Moore Lane and battered an evacuation and escape route through the houses, so that they could access all the houses while remaining sheltered indoors. Bulfin said:
“Myself, Desmond Ryan, Kilgallon, and all of the St Enda’s boys proceeded to break the divisions between the houses for about half the length of the street. The walls were quite thin, and there was no bother breaking them. We reached as far as Price’s or O’Hanlon’s which was a fish shop”.
This included the Henry St. Waxworks, where Kilgallon; who stood 6’2 returned wearing a costume looted from a wax figure of Queen Elizabeth I!
When the order to surrender was given on Saturday 29 April, E Company was huddled together to the Rotunda Gardens. Sunday, they were marched to Richmond Barracks. Kilgallon was sent first to Stafford Jail in England, then to Frongoch internment Camp in Wales with many other rebel prisoners. He gave his address at Stafford as The Heritage, Rathfarnham, Dublin; St. Enda’s. He appears in a group photograph taken at Stafford with a young Michael Collins. He had written to his parents before the Rising that he saw that trouble was coming. When they heard no news from him for a while they feared he might have been killed in the fighting. Bulfin’s sister was able to smuggle out a letter from Frongoch for him which read:
“The authorities said they would release some of us if we would sign a form promising not to take arms against His Majesty’s forces and give bonds to that effect. You know there are none of us here who could do that without betraying the cause we fought for, so I suppose we will have to stay. But it is worth it after all for if we signed these forms they would say they were justified in shooting our leaders as we were only dupes who did not know what we were fighting for. But they will never get us to do that, if they keep us here until we rot.”
The US Consul in Dublin, Edward L. Adams inquired as to the treatment of American citizens Kilgallon, Diarmuid Lynch (who became a naturalised citizen) and Éamon de Valera, who was also born in New York City. How much influence this actually carried is still a matter of debate, particularly in the case of de Valera; who had actually been sentenced to be executed. He held a position of command at Boland’s Mill. Some believe his American birth did save him, on diplomatic grounds. Others believe by the time his turn had come, they had decided the executions had become counter-productive and finished with executing the last two signatories; Seán MacDiarmada and James Connolly. Tom Clarke was a naturalised US citizen, and no issue was raised on his behalf. He and Pearse were among the first to be executed.
Part of the legacy of John ‘The Yank’ Kilgallon’s participation in the Easter Rising was a series of photographs he took at St Enda’s of comrades the day before the Rising begun.
Kilgallon was released before Christmas of 1916 and returned back to the US as part of a general amnesty. The following poem was published in The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper 28 December 1916:
“Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village blacksmith stands
The Smith a mighty man is he
With strong and sinewy hands
Yet worried Luke Kilgallon felt
And mourned since Easter Day
His son, a fine uprising Celt
Was far from Rockaway
For John had been at school with Pearse
That Dublin patriot grim
And when Pearse led his outbreak fierce
The Lion seized on him
Since then poor John, locked up in Wales
And even wails suppressed
Had shared the fare of British jails
Not quite a merry jest
‘A Merry Christmas I am free’
Flashed ‘neath the ocean foam
The smith a jolly man is he
His John is coming home.”
On his return, Kilgallon joined the US Navy and served as a machinist during World War I; though he doesn’t appear to have served overseas. He lived a quiet, apparently uneventful life afterwards managing the family business on Beach 19th Street. He died on 30 January, 1972, coincidentally an important date in Irish history known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Derry. The Rockaway peninsula, with its long strip of beaches on the Atlantic Ocean has often been called ‘The Irish Riviera’ and maintains a strong Irish presence to this day.
John Kilgannon Commeration, St. Mary Star of the Sea Cemetery in Cedarhurst, New York.
It seems like ages since St. Patrick’s Day and well it kind of is. It was early March 2019 when the Covid lockdowns began and that years St. Patrick’s festivities were among the first to fall. So fast forward two years and here we are again except this time with plenty to be grateful for.
So with our favourite day of the year just about to arrive in some parts of the world Irish-American writer Kevin Rooney takes us through the life of Ireland’s patron saint.
Much of St. Patrick’s life is still mysterious and it’s sometimes difficult to separate fact from legend. According to several sources, St. Patrick was born in Roman-occupied Britain; in what is now Wales around the end of the 4th century, and his birth name was Maewyn Succat. His father Calpurnius was a deacon. His mother Conchessa was said to have been a relative of St. Martin of Tours. His parents were both from influential Roman families among those who had brought the Christian faith to Britain. Despite his background, he was not religious or well educated in the Christian faith as a child. His first language also seems to have been a Celtic language rather than Latin.
At the age of 16, he was captured by pirates and brought to Ireland as a slave, during which time he learned the Irish language and became familiar with Irish customs. The Irish were pagans, worshipping spirits of nature and many Gods. He is said to have toiled as a shepherd on Slemish Mountain in Co. Antrim for 6 years. During this time, he prayed fervently and grew in Christian faith and understanding. One night, he was guided by a voice in a dream to escape; and was told a ship was waiting for him. He walked over 200 miles and boarded a ship. He escaped to France and studied for the priesthood. He was driven by a vision of the Irish people asking him to return, to teach them about the one God. He was ordained as a bishop and was sent to Ireland.
Portrait of Saint Patrick by Jim FitzPatrick
Patricius is the name he gave to himself; in Irish – Pádraig, Patrick in English. It appears to mean “noble”, but is said also to mean “father” as in patriarch. In his “Confessio” he writes of himself with great humility: “I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers. I am looked down upon by many.” He believed his abduction and time of slavery was a deserved punishment for his ignorance of God’s teaching and commandments. St. Patrick is credited with doing more than anyone to convert the Irish to Christianity. He is supposed to have built about 300 churches and baptized 120,000 people. He is said to have used the three-leaf shamrock to symbolize and explain the Holy Trinity; which is why that symbol is closely associated with him. He is also said to have adapted an ancient symbol of the sun into the Christian symbol now known as the Celtic cross. Perhaps his most famous legend has him driving all the snakes out of Ireland. Some scholars argue this is thought to represent his purge of the influence of the pagan ways and druids’ teaching, rather than taken literally.
Patrick also fasted for the 40 days of Lent atop the mountain in Co. Mayo known ever since as Croagh Patrick (Patrick’s stack). At the end of his fast, an angel appeared to tell him all his petitions for the Irish people would be granted; that they would retain their Christian faith until Judgement Day. On the last Sunday in July, called “Reek Sunday”; pilgrims climb Croagh Patrick (sometimes barefoot) and attend a church at the summit. Also in Co. Mayo is Downpatrick Head, which means “Patrick’s Fortress” where he built a church.
There are stories of pagan enemies wishing to harm him, particularly druids (priests of the ancient religion). His weapons were faith and prayer. He went with several monks to Slane in Co. Meath, near Tara. It was the seat of Laoghaire, the High King of Ireland. He intended to light a paschal fire to celebrate Easter. The druids are said to have made a prophecy to King Laoghaire that once lit, this fire would burn forever; symbolizing the permanence of the Christian faith in Ireland. They were determined to stop him. He and his followers chanted a recitation called St. Patrick’s Breastplate, which included:
“Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”
His would-be assailants didn’t see St. Patrick and his followers, but instead saw a wild deer followed by fawns. This prayer is also known as “The Deer’s Cry”. Laoghaire decided to let Patrick continue to preach and convert, after being impressed with his courage and eloquence. He died on March 17 in 493, which is why his feast is celebrated on that date. He is buried in Downpatrick, Co. Down. His feast day has become not only a solemn religious observance in Ireland, but also a celebration of Irish heritage and culture all over the world.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh! – St. Patrick’s Day blessing upon you
Before I became active on social media; I had noticed a lot of hostility, even abuse directed toward Irish-Americans on Irish groups and pages. I even experienced a bit myself. Before that I suppose I was aware of how unpopular Americans are abroad, but had hoped the relationship of the Irish with their American cousins would somehow have overridden that.
Here, I would like to sincerely and sensitively (as objectively as I can) examine what I have observed about Irish-American attitudes toward Ireland and native Irish attitudes toward Irish-Americans. My purpose is for understanding and bringing together the branches of our worldwide diaspora. In trying to see both sides of the issues, I am not trying to be patronising, derogatory or offensive. The opinions and observations here are mine alone. I speak for nobody else.
More than blood, I believe the millions all over the world who love Ireland makes a worldwide family. I mention that for the sake of members of that family with no Irish blood. The blood thing really hit home for me, though when I visited my cousins in Yorkshire, England. There we were with our different accents; English-born Irish, American-born Irish, Irish-born Irish. The distinctions disappeared into the common denominator, our shared heritage. My cousin in England is a gifted musician. I make some noise myself. When we play Irish music together, we instantly can read each other’s minds. It’s an instinct. American or English birth doesn’t undo that.
Four out of five children born in Ireland in the 1930’s, emigrated in the 1950’s, including my parents who came to the US. Of course, untold numbers fled here from the genocide of the Great Hunger in the 1840’s and afterward and spread pretty thoroughly so that one isn’t surprised to hear anyone here say that they have Irish heritage. The US version of the show “Who Do You Think You Are” featured many US celebrities who had Irish heritage of which they didn’t even know. A big part of tourism to Ireland is genealogy from Americans wanting to trace their Irish roots. With the popularity of ancestral DNA, many people are discovering they have Irish ancestry. I have seen much of this myself.
There is a wide variance of connection to Ireland among the over 33 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry. Some, like myself; were born of Irish parents (first generation), have been to Ireland many times, keep up with current events there, and maintain close ties with relatives there. It’s important to know and remember that I grew up in New York, a city with a large Irish community.
That community enabled me to grow up with a strong sense of what it was to have Irish heritage. Having spent summers in Ireland as kid made me fall in love with Ireland in my own personal way. This also made me take a strong interest in Irish history and what was then happening in the North. I read Irish-American newspapers such as The Irish Echo that kept its American readers well-informed on events there. We even got a Republican newspaper called The Irish People. I rubbed elbows in pubs drinking and singing with Irish immigrants. We had Gaelic Park in The Bronx where my dad took my brother and I to see hurling and Gaelic football played. I went to Irish fairs and festivals where I was able to hear lots of good live Irish music and buy lots of books and videos of historical interest.
All these things I mention would not have been accessible years ago to probably most of the number in America who call themselves Irish, that did not live in places with large Irish communities. This information is all available to them now that we have the internet, and Facebook, which is the purpose of our pages; to promote Irish history and culture. I have known people who are several generations removed from Ireland that have an instinct, or a calling for their heritage that even they don’t understand.
Their link may be only that they have an Irish last name, red hair, freckles, oral family tradition, or have recently discovered that an ancestor came from Ireland. My brother lives in a city in the southern US where there is no Irish community to speak of, nor many catholics. When I have gone to visit, I meet people who think or suspect they may have Irish heritage. I am amazed at how one wouldn’t know that, but this is what happened over the course of generations in the US. The people there know so little about Ireland that they would probably believe anything they heard about it. I recently met a nurse here in New York named Megan who wore a shamrock on her name tag, identifying herself as Irish. When I asked where her family was from, she said “Cork, I think. Not sure.”
Why would she call herself Irish? Because in the States, many of us tend to define ourselves by whence our families came. Remember, the US is a nation made up of people who came from everywhere else. Every language on earth is spoken in my county of Queens, NY. American is a nationality, not an ethnicity. For a person of Irish heritage who is born in Ireland, his nationality and ethnicity are one and the same. One does not have “American” blood or an “American” family name (except Native Americans, of course. That’s a whole other story…). Here in the states we tend to confuse the term nationality with ethnicity, which is ironic considering it is a nation of multiple ethnicities.
“What nationality are you?”
“Irish” (This is how an Irish-American would respond in the US.)
“Why? What are you?”
“Half Irish/half Italian”.
That’s another thing I think people in Ireland couldn’t understand; how someone could be “half Irish”. My neighbourhood was full of such Irish-Italian and Irish-German kids.
A bartender I knew was nicknamed Scotty for his Glasgow accent. The subject of nationalities came up and referring to himself he said; “You figure it out. I’m from Scotland. My parents were from Kerry, I was raised in Canada, and now I’m an American citizen.”
I saw it this way:
He was born in Scotland, with Irish blood.
He was raised in Canada, with Irish blood.
He will likely die in the USA, with Irish blood.
Your nationality can change, but your ethnicity doesn’t change. Ironically in Ireland now, because of the immigration that came from The Celtic Tiger, there are lots of people who are Irish by birth, but not by blood. I believe this serves well to expand the idea of an inclusive Irishness, “cherishing all children of the nation equally”.
I hear people from Ireland say that they feel that their nationality is being watered down or cheapened by Americans calling themselves Irish, particularly those with only a remote connection. I must admit at times I have been disgusted with the ignorance of many of my fellow Americans who call themselves Irish, who know or care nothing about Ireland. That is, except for one day of the year. I have been accused of being arrogant in my attitude about my own Irishness. I have strong opinions on Irish things because of my familiarity with them. I have little tolerance for fools and bullshit in general, but most especially when it comes to Ireland. So I do understand the irritation.
However, those who do care about Ireland (to varying degrees) see her as our Motherland, that instinct again. People from Ireland don’t seem to understand this feeling that’s widely felt all over the diaspora…until they leave Ireland. Just as one fails to see the forest for the trees. That’s who our parents and grandparents are, the ones who left and subconsciously passed along their homesickness. Christy Moore described this longing of which I speak quite beautifully:
“In the City of Chicago
As the evening shadows fall
There are people dreaming
Of the hills of Donegal.”
I have a friend I have known for 30 years since he came to New York from Ireland. When he first met me, I don’t think he understood how I felt about Ireland. In the years since, he has married a woman from Ireland and had a son, whom they had baptised in Ireland. He totally gets it now. His son is an American, but I’m sure he will also know he is Irish and be proud of it.
As I mentioned earlier, people without close ties to Ireland or who have never been there may not know very much about Ireland. Something I would ask people to remember is that Ireland is a country you hear nearly nothing about in the US. No more than you’d hear about Finland. So, many Irish-Americans have never heard of Dáil Éireann, Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, etc. Contrast this to how much the Irish hear about US politics, quite a lot.
Even during the conflict in the North, the mainstream media in the US reported little and it was one-sided. Proportionally very few Americans were knowledgeable about the North, though let it be said the few who were were active in taking a role in putting pressure on the US Government to get involved in the peace process. They were also very supportive of the Republican movement. This lead to another perception that Irish-Americans are naive and romantic on the subject. I have recently seen venomous hatred directed at Irish-Americans from Loyalists for their reputation of support for the Republicans, which actually made me quite proud.
A lot of misconceptions about Ireland were put out by terrible Hollywood movies. Also a lot of misconceptions about Ireland survive because of folk memory; the Irish grandparents fill them with the image of the land they left, not as it is now. I have seen this with my own eyes. People who return after many years are total strangers in their own hometown and don’t recognise the place.
The image of the backward, superstitious, strictly catholic country is dying hard. When I predicted confidently and correctly that the Gay Marriage referendum would pass in Ireland, Americans were astonished, could hardly believe it. Some don’t realise, (or maybe don’t want to realise) that Ireland is no longer as it was depicted in “The Quiet Man”.
The invention of Social Media has definitely added a new dimension to this discussion. It has put Americans who would normally not interact with anyone from Ireland, let alone someone in Ireland; conversing with Irish people who only meet the Americans who go there, some of whom are just tourists. Of course, so many Irish have relatives here that return to visit. I would hope the Irish with a negative image of Americans make exceptions for or overlook their own cousins. I hope mine do. But even if not, they’re still my cousins.
Social Media is where I first became aware of this hostility toward Irish-Americans and experienced it a bit myself. It was usually to the effect of that I’m not Irish because I wasn’t born there. Of course I wasn’t, but I feel that doesn’t negate my right to claim it as my heritage, to take an interest or contribute my knowledge where it is helpful or informative.
I don’t claim to be Irish in the same way as someone who was born there, did live there or does live there, but I do claim to be Irish. How are you not what your parents are? One guy commented to me “You may have an Irish passport, but it doesn’t mean you’re an Irish citizen!” To which I responded “Actually, it does. One must be a citizen to obtain a passport.”
I was well able for it, but who wants to subject themselves to that? I thought then about how discouraging that is to Americans who visit sites and pages to learn about their heritage who didn’t have access to the stuff I did. What bothers me is that I have heard more than one American tell me they have reconsidered going to Ireland because the abuse they get on some pages makes them feel that they wouldn’t be welcome. That’s the damage that does, and it is sad. That is something about which I have sought to do what I can, and why I’ve written this piece.
Many Americans sometimes do also fail to appreciate or understand Irish humour, in which sometimes insults are terms of endearment. Many Irish also enjoy doing the “wind-up”; provoking an argument to flare tempers purely for entertainment. We see this especially on Social Media. Also, the word “Yank” applies to all Americans, even Americans from the South. Being called a Yank can be affectionate or insulting, depending how it’s used. Normally, no offense is meant. I take no offence to it. But if you choose to always take offense, then prepare to be constantly insulted. I say own it.
To be honest, I never personally experienced any hostility about being an American in Ireland. But then, I have relatives all over and know my way around pretty well. I used to visit regularly until 2000. My next and last visit was in 2005. The political climate had changed a lot in those few years. After a few days, I had noticed that nobody said anything political pertaining to the US around me, which was unusual. I broke the ice by saying “Say what you will. You will not offend me.” There’s nothing so uncomfortable as feeling like you have to watch what you say. Once I said that, the hair came down, and shoes came off, so to speak. That being said, perhaps in general, a change in the political climate is a source of this gap.
Here I will discuss politics in the general, historical sense. I will not comment on current US or Irish politics or personalities. I think there is a huge difference in how the US perceives itself as opposed to how it is perceived around the world, including Ireland. Americans believe their troops are protecting them, and keeping the world safe for democracy and from terrorism. Many people in Ireland see the US as an imperialist power that goes to war for oil and business in which thousands are being slaughtered. The Irish have suffered from occupation by an imperialist power, so their natural sympathy is for those who are occupied or oppressed. Many Irish see the Middle East, particularly the Palestinian/Israeli conflict very differently than Americans; sympathising with the Palestinians. Many Irish, particularly Republicans admired Gaddafi of Libya, whereas Americans saw him an a crazy tyrant.
Americans believe Communism was a great evil that was necessary to eradicate with great loss of life. Many Irish sympathised with the people of Vietnam during the war with the US. Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese leader was inspired by Irish revolutionaries, particularly Tom Barry; who commanded the Third (West) Cork Brigade of the IRA in the Irish War of Independence. Recently, we saw another example of the disparity of opinion about Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who now graces an Irish stamp. Americans couldn’t fathom that they would put Che on a stamp. Americans consider him an evil communist tyrant fanatic. The Irish consider him a freedom fighter (of Irish descent) who was killed by the CIA. Ireland was neutral during the Cold War and did not share American paranoia about communism.
A key thing for Americans to remember about Ireland is that it is a small, peaceful European nation. It has a history of neutrality going back to World War II. Ireland did not join NATO. It does not have nuclear weapons nor does it want them. But, if huge world power nations like the US destroy the world with nuclear weapons, that would include Ireland. This is why they hear a lot about the US in Ireland, but very little vice versa. There is a certain amount of resentment about that as well as the fact that US military aircraft stop and refuel in Shannon Airport. I for one wish they would do so elsewhere, as I don’t want Ireland involved in any other nation’s disputes or to become a target for terrorism for this reason.
Irish-Americans: Go to Ireland. Don’t live up to negative expectations about Americans. Visit Irish sites and pages on-line. Let your love for Ireland be based on truth, not misconception. Learn about your roots. Learn especially about where your people are from in Ireland. Learn about the history and culture. Remember that people from Ireland have a very different view of the world. Don’t let anyone stop you.
Irish-born: Try to to understand why we call ourselves Irish. Try to understand how little we may know. When we do ask dumb questions, please try to educate or advise, rather than abuse. That way you will be strengthening the diaspora, spreading knowledge instead of misinformation, correcting misconceptions, contributing to her “exaltation among the nations”. These people have a calling for their Irish heritage Please don’t discourage them.
Our thanks go out to Kevin Rooney for this fascinating article. Hopefully it will help educate those that make disparaging remarks about the foreign born Irish. A 2nd generation Mayo American Irish writer and musician living in Queens, New York. You can hear more from Kevin over at the Irish History 1916 through to 1923and Everything IrishFacebook pages where he is an admin. Kevin also contributed to the Happy Birthday Mr Bobbook, a celebration of Bob Dylan’s 80th Birthday, with submissions from Irish poets, writers, singers, songwriters, artists, photographers and an eclectic mix of admirers!