Love for “the auld sod” and American soil!

November 14, 2009 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

Uncle John & Friendsby John Gallagher

To the best of my knowledge my dear old Irish Dad never told a lie in his life.  However, he did employ wonderfully fractured truth, fancifully decorated in delightful deceit that profoundly transformed black into white and then Kelly green.  It was called blarney.

He explained it by saying blarney was originated by an angel named Sean to put God in a good mood after the Lord was angered by the transgressions of those two British people in the garden of Eden.

Himself filled me with wild stories from the time I was old enough to climb on his knee until I went off to college–where I found the profound conceit and stupidity that I was smarter and wiser than he.   After all, who could swallow his contention that it was an Irishman who invented the submarine, that more native-born Irishmen won the American Congressional medal of Honor than any other ethnic group, that St. Brenden the Navigator discovered the New World 287 years before Columbus, that the song “Dixie” –called the national anthem of the American South–was written by a native-born Irishman, that Irish Brigades fought for freedom in 13 other countries in addition to their own, and that the largest statue in Peru honors Irish legions who won freedom for the peasants.

Later in life I found out that these “stories” were indeed true, although his contention that the Irish discovered the wheel, atomic energy, the north pole, butter, nylon and Coca-Cola could not be verified.  In addition, his restructuring of history, I admit was, at best, faulty.  He claimed that Betsy Ross ran out of emerald cloth.  Otherwise the American Flag would have been red, white and green–which was more baloney than blarney.

But it wasn’t the tall tales that were short on facts that made the immigrant lad from County Leitrim a charming hero in his own house and community.  It was the truth he wove in the tapestry of his life, in parables uttered with a slight Irish brogue and, above all else, his gentle example every step of his life on his journey to God, a road less taken by those who followed him because it was often too difficult to follow, too easy to go with the flow, or easy to go along to get along in the society where morality is subjugated to monetary success.

If his love of the old sod was in his bones, American was in his heart, and St. Patrick’s Day was his Thanksgiving Day with an immigrant’s mindset and a Celt’s sense of appreciation.  America took him in, offered opportunity to prosper with hard work, provided the grass root chance to vote, protest, join a union, build a neighborhood, disagree with the establishment or media by writing a letter without fear, and be able to bond with those of other faiths and nationalities…even an Englishman if he choose–and he did.

Despite his passion for the freedom of all Ireland, to himself America, even when it was imperfect–more of a boiling pot than a melting pot–was the city On The Hill where his children and their children’s children might see and appreciate what was provided though they would never fully understand or recognize the sacrifices made for them.

He went to God 35 years ago.  The reason I never go to his grave is simply because he is not there.  But when I see an old man in the back pew of a darkened church working with the beads, he is there.  When I hear the distant rumble of a train, and see the face of an old locomotive engineer with a pipe decorating his face…it is he.  When there is the piercing shrill of pipes and the thunder of drums and the musical chant of “The Minstrel Boy” or “The Men of the West,” himself is alive and there is no reason to mourn.

To cherish the past and appreciate the present is the best bond of heritage.  There will be 132 parades in America honoring the Great Saint and the Irish, not merely the 11 in New Jersey and major urban areas, but also in places like Savannah, Georgia, Honolulu, Salt Lake City, Puerto Rico, and–God help us–Beverly Hills.  The grand old guy would smile in shy appreciation and a touch of amazement that other ethnic groups would share in celebration of a saint from a country so small it could fit in one county of Texas. 

Himself was something…and that’s no blarney.  He could not have cared less if your name ended in a ski, a vowel, or was prefaced by a Mc or an O’.  On this St. Patrick’s Day he would wish you this:

“May you  have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you’re going, and the insight to know when you’ve gone too far.”

From Himself and myself–Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


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