Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I'm not Irish

  • I am one of the few Americans who claims no Irish ancestry. WASP, some very diluted German, and a quarter Spanish. But I'm Catholic. So sláinte.
  • My usual summary of Irish and Irish-American history. St. Patrick wasn't Irish; he was a Romano-Briton kidnapped by the Irish who returned to evangelize them. (Neither is Lucky Charms, entirely American; leprechauns are Irish but actually not a big deal in their folklore.) Apparently religious fervor in Ireland is cyclical. Fervent (severe as monks) in the Dark Ages (in which they helped save civilization), casually Catholic by the 1500s. Maybe St. Brendan sailing in a curragh did discover America; can't prove it. The first people in Ireland to object to Henry VIII's leaving the church were the ethnic English in the Pale around Dublin. The rest of the Irish people didn't know there was a change until later (because the English rulers hid it for a while: the Mass remained); when they knew (no more Mass), they rejected it, almost alone among northern countries (Flanders too) remaining Catholic. After that, Irish religion, persecuted, was low-profile, creating a kind of low churchmanship that influences American Catholicism (cf. Thomas Day). Catholic emancipation in Britain revived the Irish church; hardworking, tough priests and nuns and pious laity still part of our cultural memory in America, as Ireland's biggest export used to be its people. They built the American church, institutionally, despite lots of native Protestant resistance (burning our buildings) in the early 1800s. (On sitcoms you still sometimes hear priests talk with a brogue.) Oh, and they weren't Jansenists (Calvinist-influenced heretics), just strict. Churchy, unlike Italian folk Catholicism, for example. Now, also because of secularism and Vatican II, religion has waned in Ireland. The Sixties (the Rockefellers pushing contraception, and Vatican II) neutralized America's huge Catholic minority (arguably by 1960 we almost became a Catholic country) so most third- and fourth-generation Irish-Americans are like everyone else. The church and Irish nationalism are not synonymous. Actually Popes wanted the northern European kings to come back to the church, not secular-inspired rebellions copying the French Revolution. So the church has always kept its distance from "the cause": Communist terrorists collecting donations from well-meaning naive Irish-Americans. Cardinal Spellman had no time for it; he identified himself as an American. To this day, now among traditionalists, the argument continues: were the nativist Protestants right that Catholicism and Americanism are incompatible? (Leo XIII vs. the Americanist heresy, when some churchmen uncritically adopted American values, as John Courtney Murray later did.) Hard for patriotic immigrants and second-generation people from 50-60 years ago to come to terms with, as golden-era America was a great home for the church. Which is what American St. Patrick's Day is really all about (in Ireland it's a holy day of obligation and used to be solemn): celebrating the Irish making it over here. And by extension, since they really created the American church, all Catholics, so it's my holiday too, as is Italian Columbus Day with its parade in the heart of South Philly.
  • Sounds like a bad joke but it's true: Omagh's "Shawshank Husband" dug tunnel from bedroom to pub over 15 years.
  • New Age "Celtic" stuff is made-up garbage. Ireland is Catholic; deal with it.
  • Recorded by Judy Collins (with that name, is she Catholic?): "Drink a round to Ireland, boys; I'm home again. Drink a round to Jesus Christ who died for Irish men."


  1. Sounds like a bad joke but it's true

    Are you sure about that? "But recently I was finding myself singing rebel songs and stuff coming back up the tunnel and it was only a matter of time before I was caught anyhow. The landlord was also wondering how I was just appearing out of nowhere at the same time every night and disappearing from the women’s toilets."

    1. From the Tyrone Tribulations? Yeah, they got me.


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