Sunday, March 16, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day! - Reflections on my Irish grandmother and the Irish-American home

Long before the Celtic tiger came to roar upon Ireland's economy, my grandmother, Mary Margaret Griffin, left Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry and made her way to Providence, RI. She worked as a maid for a wealthy industrialist on the east side of the river, and her sister Kathleen, pictured on the far left, joined her a few years later to work as a maid as well. Being Irish, they never shared too many details of that time, but my Great Aunt Kathleen once let it slip that she would often cry herself to sleep at night.

Both would find happiness a few years later marrying 1st generation Irish Americans. My grandfather, James Patrick, left the 8th grade to work to support his family after his father died. Through hard work, self-sacrifice and a focus on education, Mary and Jim's children and grandchildren would go on to college, graduate school, entrepreneurship and the American Dream. As a kid, I always had great fun on St. Patrick's Day. Later on in my senior year of college, I started dating my future husband on St. Patrick's Day. I guess it didn't hurt that his name was Daniel Patrick! Now when I think about St. Patrick's Day here in the U.S., I think of it as not only honoring Ireland's patron Saint but as a celebration of the immigrant story. Maybe that is why so many people join in on the fun of being Irish for a day on March 17th.

This year, St. Patrick's Day has me reflecting on the Irish American home. There are a few tell-tale signs of a 1st generation Irish American home, namely:
(1) Somewhere there will be a commemorative plate or painting of John F. Kennedy. (2) On a bedroom bureau there will be a statue of the Virgin Mary, most likely draped in rosary beads. If not there, you may find her statue in the yard. (3) In the kitchen you will likely find Irish linen, shamrock dish towels, and a plaque with An Irish Blessing on it (May the road rise to meet you...)

There isn't a JFK plate on any of our walls - however I started wondering, "Could someone visiting my house tell this is a 2nd generation Irish American home?" So I went around the house with camera in tow and here are some of the things I found.
Above the mirror in the entry way - St. Brigid's cross.
A Celtic cross in the hallway.

A corner in the office with photos from our first trip to Ireland in 1989. We brought back video tapes of relatives my grandmother hadn't seen in 30 years. The silhouettes are of my children - next to each one is a sculpture they made. The "G" is from my architect cousin - thanks Gretchen! You may recognize the table - it's from Wisteria.
Photos before digital - at least for us. The third photo is of my Great Uncle Mick. The stone BARN to the left of him is the HOUSE my grandmother was born in. I have a copy of her birth certificate - the witnesses affixed their "X" on the signature line as they didn' t know how to write. The farm on Ballinakilla Road has been in the family for over 300 years - a tremendous accomplishment considering the history of the Glenbeigh uprisings. Below a picture of Rossbeigh strand - the 7 mile beach in Glenbeigh.
I would love to hear what a visitor to your house might see that would tell them about your family's history and story. If you'd like, send images and I'll post them next week.

On St. Patrick's Day I'm heading off to Chicago! This image from Wikipedia shows the Chicago River wearing the green in honor of March 17th. I plan to squeeze in some visits to home design stores in between business and will post the photos when I get back. Eire go brach! Ireland Forever!

(Kennedy plate via Lori Ferber , Rosary via Catholic Company)


Kwana said...

Have a great St. Patrick's day!

LondonCalling said...

Happy St.Patricks Day! I have an irish great-grandmother too! Magdalene Roark- I always thought that was such a lyrical name.

pve design said...

Holidays remind us of our Culture.
What a nice tribute you posted!

Mrs.French said...

I love your pride in your heritage! Before we moved to Portland we lived in Saint Paul. St. Patrick's Day was the most exciting day of the year. I love Portland but on March 17 I long to hit the parade and belly up at a little Irish pub.

House & Life said...

I love that picture of Chicago! I'm so envious, love going to visit my sister in law who lives just steps from that picture. Great to hear from you on my blog. I finally remembered to add you to my favorite blogs (check on you all the time and just forgot!)


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