On Being (Sort of) Irish on Saint Patrick's Day

John McManamy Health Guide
  • It’s Saint Patrick’s Day and I’m not feeling very Irish. Coincidentally, I have been applying the final touches to a book with the subtitle, “My Funny Life on a Planet Not of My Choosing …”


    Seriously, if I can’t identify myself with the people who share my same biosphere, how am I going to identify with being Irish? This was a source of great friction in our family. Had my parents actually taken the trouble to seek out my views on the matter, they might have actually acknowledged why I thought this whole Irish business was stupid to me.


    Here’s the situation: Both my parents grew up in working class Irish-Catholic neighborhoods during the Great Depression. Tribal memories ran deep. There was a certain us against the rest of the world mentality. Then the world changed. Irish-Americans moved up the social ladder. People moved to the suburbs.

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    An unofficial affirmative action policy was in place. Certain establishment bastions, including the company that hired my father, decided it would be in their best interests to open their doors to people they had once looked down upon, provided they knew how to hold a knife and fork correctly. Not uncoincidentally, America elected its first (and still only) Irish-Catholic President.


    So here was my father, who probably couldn’t find Ireland on a map, letting drop his Irish ancestry every chance he got. I can’t blame him for this. It secured for him a far better life than he ever could have imagined for himself and his family.


    Ironically, that life found us in a neighborhood that had nothing to do with being Irish. The different ethnicities cancelled each other out. We were who we were.


    Throw in the fact that we were the first generation to grow up with TV and rock ‘n roll and a zillion-jillion other things and you can see why as a kid I was only Irish on St Patrick’s Day.


    Oh, one more thing: Irish cuisine is an oxymoron. If anything can sustain a culture, it is food. Here is a phrase that has never been uttered in any of 6,900 spoken languages on earth: “Let’s do Irish tonight.”


    It’s true – we are what we eat.


    Now that I have made my case:


    I play the didgeridoo, a hollowed out piece of wood that emits a layered pulsing drone. The instrument, perhaps the oldest in the world, was developed by aboriginals at the top end of Australia. No other culture, apparently, even entertained the idea, but wait …


    Back in the nineteenth century, some Bronze Age horn-like objects were unearthed from various sites throughout Ireland. The objects mystified those who are paid to be mystified. What they couldn’t figure out is why something that looked like a horn could not be played like a horn. The tubing was why too wide at the end where one would be expected to blow into it.


    A century went by.


    Then, in the 1980s, white people started taking up the didgeridoo. Someone put two and two together, had a craftsperson fashion a reproduction of one of the Bronze Age horns (the originals were in far too delicate condition), put it to his lips and …


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    No question about it: Way back in pre-history, the Irish had didgeridoos. My people!




    No Bipolar Question of the Week this week. Feel free to comment.


    Further reading: Prehistoric Music Ireland


    Cool YouTube video: Ancient Music Ireland




Published On: March 17, 2012