Having said that, I realize most of the people I know simply think of it as a day to celebrate being Irish, wear green and/or drink all day and night. SO, I decided to do some research and share a little bit about the Irish culture and my Irish family beyond Shamrocks and Big felt Green Hats and Beer.
The fact is, I come from a strong Irish heritage, was raised inundated with Irish music and (a bastardized version of) Irish history and culture (thanks to a slightly deranged, alcoholic, Be-Irish-or-Die father) and my siblings and I all have “very Irish” names. I’d love to list them here, but have learned that some people don’t like their names associated with my blog so I’ll err on the side of caution and not list them here (which is too bad because they’re pretty neat.)
Allegedly, our original last name was “O’Braoin” (pronounced “O’Breen”) and was Americanized to “Breen” when my ancestors came over to America (or so I’ve been told.) The name Breen in Ireland is derived from the native Gaelic Mac Braoin Sept that was located in County Kilkenny. From there they settled into neighbouring Counties, especially County Wexford. The Sept O’Braoin of County Westmeath also anglicized their name as Breen as well as the more usual O’Brien. (I found this info here.)
That would make these our family coat of arms:
Padraic \p(a)-draic, pad-raic\ as a boy’s name is a variant of Paddy (Irish) and Patrick (Latin), and the meaning of Padraic is “patrician, noble” (Yeah, that’s me, all patrician-like and noble. I doubt anyone would want to be part of my aristocracy, or anti-aristocracy, as the case may be.) Padraic is not a popular first name for men and an equally uncommon surname or last name for all people. (1990 U.S. Census)
My first name actually has an accent mark (a slanting line called a síneadh fada [SHEEN-uh FAH-duh] or sometimes just “síneadh” or “fada”) over the letter “a” on my birth certificate. making my actual, legal name “Seán.” The mark is not really an accent mark, per se. It indicates the length of time that you pronounce the vowel. I was told this is because, in Ireland, “Sean” would be pronounced “Shane” without the mark over the “a” to give it a long vowel sound and make it “Shon.”
Here’s what google came up with when I searched for both “Sean” and “Seán”:
Sean \sean\ as a boy’s name (also used as girl’s name Sean), is pronounced shon. It is of Irish and Hebrew origin, and the meaning of Sean is “God is gracious”. (Oh, the irony…)
Seán is a name originating in the Irish language. It is the Irish equivalent of the French Jean. Anglicisations of the name include Sean (without a fada on the a), Shane, Shaine, Shaun, and Shawn. The name Shane comes from the Ulster pronunciation of the name, whereas the names Shaun, Shawn or Sean come from the way it is pronounced in Munster, Leinster, and Connaught.
Although I never use the fada anymore, I was forced to use it all through elementary school and my father would send report cards, letters and any documents with my name on it back to the my teachers, “corrected” with the fada over my “a” and a stern comment about “getting it right.” There was never a shortage of white-out or humiliation in my house.
My Mom used to call me “Seany Packaridge” in a sing song tone (and still does some times. ) She also used to sing me to sleep with this little diddy:
Sean, Sean, the leprechaun lives in big old tree,
All the children look for him, toora-loora-lee.
Sean Sean the leprechaun do just what you’re told,
And, toora-loora-loora, he’ll bring you a pot of gold.
As I said, I grew up listening to Irish Music (one of only two types of music allowed to be played in our home, the other being country) such as the Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem, and the Irish Rovers. For a long time, after we moved away from my father, I refused to listen to Irish music as it would remind me of him and I hated to be reminded of him and hated anything he liked (Irish music, country music, beer and wearing outfits consisting of bandannas, cowboy hats, homemade muscle shirts [white t-shirts with the sleeves ripped off] cut off plaid shorts, knee high dress socks and cowboy boots – all at the same time.) In later years, as an adult, I was able to move past that and listen to and enjoy some of the music again. (I even like some country music and will drink beer occasionally, but I NEVER warmed up to that outfit.)
We always had a large Irish flag displayed in our home. Ours was Green, White and Gold, which my fa
ther insisted was the true and accurate colors of the flag, as opposed to Green, White and Orange. However, a quick Google search reveals this:
Occasionally, differing shades of yellow, instead of orange, are seen at civilian functions. However the Department of the Taoiseach state that this is a misrepresentation which “should be actively discouraged”,and that worn-out flags should be replaced. In songs and poems, the colors are sometimes enumerated as “green, white and gold” in song, using poetic license.
A green flag featuring a harp was an older symbol of the nation of Ireland, (we had one of these in our house as well) which was adopted by the Irish Volunteers and the United Irishmen. A rival organization, the Orange Order, which was exclusively Protestant, was founded in memory of King William of Orange. Following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which pitted the “green” tradition of the republican United Irishmen against the “orange” tradition of Anglican Protestant Ascendancy loyal to the British Crown, the ideal was to make peace between the two traditions and, if possible, to found a self-governing Ireland on such peace and union. This led to the current flag which utilizes the white to represent the uniting of the “Green” and the “Orange” Hence, this is the current flag:
We were raised to revere the Irish claddaugh and we all had claddaugh rings. The Claddagh’s design features two hands clasping a heart, surmounted by a crown. The elements of this symbol are often said to correspond to the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown). Claddagh rings may be used as friendship, relationship, eternity, engagement, or wedding rings depending on the intention of wearer and, in the case of a gift, of the giver. I actually found one that had a triangle in place of the heart which I no longer wear because I lost weight and it kept falling off.
John F. Kennedy, the first Irish catholic president, was spoken of like a Saint in our home and his photo hung in every home we ever lived. We were taught to hate all things British and that the Irish Republican Army was a peacekeeping organization that was oppressed and to be supported and admired.
Wearing the color orange on St. Patrick’s day in my house was forbidden (which was fine by me, as I used to hate the color orange) although you could wear it WITH green and white so long as there was more green than orange. I now like the color orange and wear it frequently. Maybe it’s still some passive aggressive spite on my part. I have a co-worker who takes similar umbrage to wearing orange on SPD and, although I would not purposely wear orange today to upset her, I wouldn’t feel bad or guilty if I wore it incidentally…it’s not like it means anything to me.
Of my 4 siblings and my Mom, 3 siblings and my Mom embrace the Irish in our heritage and love all things Irish. Irish fests are attended, homes are decorated with various Irish symbols, St. Patrick’s day is celebrated with corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread and beer and 2 of my siblings have visited Ireland.
So that’s a little about what I was raised with and some actual facts about the Irish heritage and symbols I was able to Google up for you all. I am perfectly happy to be Irish – GAY and Irish (take that Mahattan SPD parade!) – and I enjoy learning more about the culture here and there and listening to some of the music. I am not a big beer drinker (except at bowling), never drink whiskey, I do not have an Irish flag on display in my home and I do not like the taste or smell of cooked cabbage. I do enjoy corned beef on Reubens , I do love me some potatoes and it just so happens Green is my favorite color (although you know I’m partial to the rainbow, too), but I married a Scottish man so I’d probably be unwelcome in my father’s home. (Well, I’d be unwelcome for being a homo first, but marrying another homo who’s not even Irish would be beyond the pale. )
BUT, I tire of the chastisement I face whenever I show up at work or in public on this day not wearing green (“You’re name is Sean Padraic and you’re NOT wearing Green? Egads!“) so I have learned to go with the flow and give the people what they want, giving a nod to my heritage in the most visible and traditional way I know: the wearing of the Green!
(Don’t look at these if you want to be surprised on Undie Monday next week…
I’m re-posting them)
(I didn’t have green socks, just rainbow striped socks with green on them.)