Skip to main content

a little irish in me

carrickfergus castle. not mine.
today is the day when we all throw on some green and pretend to be a little irish in order to stake their claim to cheap beer and to honour their fake ancestors by passing out in a pool of their own urine by eight o'clock. godspeed you, little irish wannabes, it's taken centuries of regular gorging to get our livers this resilient. this isn't just something that you develop over the course of a few hours, once a year. but your effort is adorable. at least, it's adorable as long as i don't catch you peeing in my yard. that's the moment at which you get introduced to the irish temper.

of course, if you're white, or have some white ancestry, chances are you might actually be a little irish, because those genes got everywhere, especially in america, but in most former british colonies. in fact, st. patrick's day is a bigger deal in the new world than in ireland itself, owing to the fact that it was the day in which immigrants [who were often closer to the modern day concept of refugees and were greeted with the same mix of pity and suspicion] honoured the homeland they missed so much. people who lived in ireland weren't so preoccupied with the glories of the homeland, since they were often collapsing from starvation in its emerald fields.

being white [really white, in every sense] and having descended from people who lived in every other part of great britain and ireland, i was certain that there must have been some irish blood that got in there, but it took me a while to find it. in fact, i have two separate sources of irishness in me, one comparatively recent and the other considerably further back. i should add that my father has steadfastly insisted that there was no chance that any irish blood got into the mix, because, as a proud scotsman, even the implication was an affront.

the first instance of irish-ness comes from a portion of my family whose last name was jackson. they emigrated to canada from carrickfergus ireland, which is a town near belfast known for having a lovely castle that has never belonged to any member of my family. that is basically the sum total of everything i know about this family, because once i traced them back to the old country, they completely disappear. i know that my progenitor moved with his father from carrickfergus and married after arriving in nova scotia. i also know that his name was samuel, which means that i have a direct relative named samuel jackson, so i'm desperately hoping to turn up some kind of document that shows his middle name was leo, or larry, or lincoln, or anything that lets me talk about being descended from samuel l. jackson. [my own personal bit of black irish heritage.]

the o'cahan homeland. also not mine.
the second irish branch of my family, as i mentioned, is considerably further back. it enters the picture in the medieval period, through an ancestor named agnes o'cahan, who married into the macdonald family. the o'cahans were royalty of a sort, kings of limavady [léim a'mhadaidh, for those of you who want to give your tongues a workout] near londonderry, which is kind of like me saying i'm the queen of my apartment. i can be all the royalty i want until i try venturing beyond my front door. the o'cahans [also the o'cathans, depending on whom you asked] stuck to londonderry because attempts to move beyond that were generally met with a massive norman-english boot to the face.

it must have been a bit humiliating for the o'cahans, whose heritage in ireland stretched back hundreds of years, long before these french fops started charging across the channel and claiming bits of the larger island for themselves. how far back? i managed to trace their lineage to about 100bce, and i stopped copying before i ran out of names, figuring i might as well just get a copy of the chronicles of ulster and use it. although it can be tricky relying on ancient manuscripts that also include tales of spirits rising from the hills and military generals taking the form of animals during battle, there does seem to be at least some attempt at respecting the lineage of persons involved with early irish history. so while it might not be 100% reliable, those transcriptions do at least give me a hint of where one part of me might have come from, beyond the time when there were legal records.

the most important aspect of this discovery is, of course, that i now have a family tree that goes further back than rick santorum's. so now i live out the rest of my life in peace, without the idea that santo has shown himself to be better at something than i am. hallelujah. the other cool part, of course, is that i have a family tree that extends past the year 0, which is a pretty impressive thing to have going. and thirdly, both of these irish branches come from my father's side of the family. which means that he now has to bear the mark of genealogical shame, not just because he has two different strains of irish in his scottish blood, but because his irish family is better-documented than his scottish one.

st. gertrude's abbey. still not mine.
so that's the part of me that celebrates st. patrick's day. but st. patrick doesn't have this day all to himself, because the 17th of march is also the feast day of st. gertrude of nivelles, in modern-day belgium.

gertrude is considered a saint, although she was technically never made a saint, because she and her mother, itta, founded a monastery in nivelles, which was all you really had to do to get the word "saint" attached to your name at that point. [we were, mercifully, past the days of sainthood meaning you were murdered in some horribly creative way for your beliefs.] she was also apparently a bit of a seventh century firecracker: when asked by the king if she'd be interested in marrying one of his sons as a political arrangement, she told his royal highness to go piss up a rope, saying that she was never going to marry any earthly man and that her only husband would be jesus. of course, she was ten at the time, which might seem a little young to be making those proclamations, but it was also kind of young to be getting married off to the king's horny son. so gertrude scored a victory against pedophilia that should be granted more attention. [and, indeed, she never did marry, but died quite young, even for the time.]

gertrude is now revered as the patron saint of the mentally ill and was summoned to help against infestations of rats. [yeah, catholicism is totally monotheistic.] this was apparently because she was always pictured with a cat, so i guess when people prayed to her, she would just miraculously appear and throw a cat at them, like the old lady from the simpsons.

blessings upon you!!!
to return to that anecdote about gertrude and the perverted king, her strength of will might have served her well, but it doesn't seem to have run in the family. her father, pepin of landen [pepin i, pepin the elder, pippin... people had a lot of names back then], might not have succeeded in marrying her off to the merovingian prince, but he did pass off his younger daughter, begga, to the son of the bishop of metz. through that marriage, his family [the pippinids] were united with the powerful arnulfings and together they eventually formed the carolingian dynasty. that dynasty's best known leader was charlemagne, however it's more important at this moment to know that the direct descendents of begga and her arnulfing husband [ansegiesel, if you were wondering, which you weren't] include me.

that's right. i am a distant relative of the patron saint of cats and the mentally ill. the patron saint of crazy cat ladies.

so tonight i'm celebrating my irish heritage by having a drink, but it's a belgian-style beer in honour of one of the relatives i like to think i most resemble. i don't think i'm going to get to be a saint, though. 

Comments

as long as you're here, why not read more?

don't speak

you might think that it sounds dramatic, but linguistic genocide is something that happens. people in power will go to great lengths to eradicate certain languages, not just for the sheer joy of making the world a lesser place, but as a way of beating down the culture that's associated with it. language has a unique reciprocal bond with culture, and every group that has attempted to break down another has recognised that forbidding a cultural group from communicating in their own language is an extremely effective way to tear apart their culture.

there are lots [and lots and lots and lots] of examples of this sort of thing, some successful, some not, but far too many to cover in one blog post. however, i thought it was worth looking at some languages that have been the subjects of active repression, and what the political consequences of that have been.

devastation :: the native north american languages :: it should come as no surprise that the largest genocide in history [by a ma…

losers?

just a short time ago, i waxed prosaic about trump supporters who felt betrayed by their candidate pursuing in office the exact things that he said he would. short version: i have no sympathy.

today is a bit different. in the wake of america's bombing of a syrian air strip, in response to a chemical weapons attack by the syrian government, my facebook and twitter feeds were peppered with plaintive shades of "we believed you". these are the people who heard trump say that he wanted the united states to step back and focus on defending its own. indeed, trump did say such things, over and over; america cannot be the policeman of the world. even arch-liberal cynics like me had to admit that this was a refreshing argument to hear from someone outside the paul family, and, could easily have been turned into trump's greatest argument against hillary clinton. [he chose to go another way, which also worked.]

trump also said, repeatedly, that america needed to invest heavily …

long division

after the united states election last year, there were the usual calls for the country to unite behind the new president. that never happens anymore, because, since george w. bush scored a victory in 2004, having launched the country into a war in iraq for no reason, the people on the losing side of a presidential election have been pretty bloody angry about it. democrats hated bush 43. republicans really hated obama. democrats really hate trump.

it didn't help that trump didn't make the typical conciliatory gestures like including a couple of members of the opposite party in his cabinet, or encouraging his party to proceed slowly with contentious legislation. barack obama arguably wasted at least two and as many as six years of his tenure as president trying to play peacemaker before he felt sufficiently safe to just say "screw you guys" and start governing around the ridiculous congress he was forced to deal with. not-giving-a-shit obama was the best president in …