It was many years ago now but we were visiting my Mom and Dad when Mom said to me “Philip come here and sit by me.” This was an unusual request and I was sitting by her side within seconds.
“What is it Mom?”
She said, “I want to tell you something important that you are never to forget and let no one tell you different”. I was thinking shouldn’t that be “differently” but being a good son I would never question her.
“What is it Mom?”
“I want to tell you that you are Irish!”
I was in my forties at the time and I thought I knew that already. I could see the football game on TV over her shoulder and the 49ers were getting close to scoring and Dad was getting excited in the next room. I was thinking I might like to join him, so I asked Mom “Is there anything else you think is important that I should never forget and let no one tell me different?”
“No”, she said, “That is enough of a burden to bear!”
I never asked her why she wanted to tell me that. Unfortunately she passed away not long after that and in going over the things she told me I realized that I had never asked why that it was important to tell me that I was Irish.
A few months later my Dad came down to spend some time with us. At some point I brought the subject up of why did Mom tell me I was Irish. Dad said, “Oh, give that Irish stuff up! You could pass for English so if anyone asks just tell them you are English.”
“But Dad, Mom said not to let anyone tell me different!”
“I’m not telling you anything different, I am telling you what is good for you. I’m your Dad and that is my job. Besides you are not only Irish, but also Scottish, English and a small part German. The Irish have had it tough, both here and in Ireland.”
“But Dad why did Mom feel she needed to tell me I was Irish?”
“Well, maybe you seemed Irish to her. She was pure Irish herself. Your Mom was pure Irish and proud of it - maybe she wanted you to be proud of it too, but beware of a ‘fool’s pride’!” When I protested he said “You are young – go to Ireland and find out for yourself.” And so the odyssey began. For over 25 years I went to Ireland every chance I could and would go again. I learned many things and believe Dad was advising me as best he knew. I am proud to be Irish too now, Mom, in case you are listening.
Of course I know now that no one is pure Irish. There are a few that would have you believe that, but it is a matter of definition. This is one of the many interesting things I discovered in my trips to visit Ireland and to read about its past and present. It has a past that is very beguiling and a present that reflects the tales of the past.
It is a beautiful place of deep spirituality, haunting and lonely. The rain, wind and terrain mix in proportions that entwine the soul. The clouds cover the island in constant changing shapes and color, letting light through in beams that light up the grass, trees and rocks to produce a natural kaleidoscope. My first few trips were a delightful experience as everything was new and yet familiar.
People spoke in various brogues, different cadences and word patterns that, although unusual, were not strange to me. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscapes, the gentleness of the animals and the charm of the people. It was only after my third or fourth visit that I began to see deeper into the mystery that is Ireland.
Even now I wonder at what I saw and what I see. You can not mine the nuggets that come to you as an awareness, a vague feeling that somehow takes the shape of ideas, but only after much contemplation and reflection. Sometimes they come instantly but need time for resolution like developing a print from a negative in a darkroom.
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