On being properly Irish

My mother’s family is Irish. We are descended from the Shannons and the O’Flahertys; it’s hard to get more Irish.

The Shannon River is the island’s longest, and – depending on the exact translation you favor- inscribed on the city walls of Galway was the motto “from the fury of the O’Flahertys, good Lord deliver us.”

I grew up listening to tales of folks from the Old Sod and believing there was likely nothing more noble than having Irish blood coursing through your veins.

The Irish, I learned, persevered, especially when the deck was stacked against us by foreign rulers, potato famines or unfair laws.

I have visited Ireland twice, and I have – probably unsurprising to those who know me – climbed the battlement steps, leaned backward and kissed the Stone of Eloquence at Blarney Castle. The word “blarney” gained its negative connotation when Queen Elizabeth I realized the Lord of Blarney was humoring her with Irish charm and wit. But, with no intention of letting her have her way. “That’s just blarney,” Queen Bess proclaimed.

I’ve also taken photos of swans gliding along on the Garavogue River in County Sligo, walked through the 800-year-old royal abbey at Ballintubber in County Mayo and lifted a pint or two at pubs in the Republic and the North.

While I am not pure Irish, I couldn’t be more proud of that heritage.

Around St. Patrick’s Day, it seems that most of North America wants to be Irish. The problem is, many of them don’t do it well.

Every year, I am forced to put up with people who massacre the nickname of the holiday’s patron saint – who, by the way, wasn’t altogether Irish himself.

A few years ago, after The Messenger had covered the annual Emmetsburg celebration, a reader chastised me for a headline I had written, pointing out that I must have been quite embarrassed to have called the holiday “St. Paddy’s,” rather than “St. Patty’s” in very large print.

Actually, I had nothing to be embarrassed about.

“Paddy” is a man’s nickname and as a website recently proclaimed “There isn’t a sinner in Ireland that would refer to a Patrick as ‘Patty.'”

“Patty” is a nickname for Patricia, and while there is a St. Patricia, her feast day is Aug. 25. Patty is either a girl’s name or a small slab of ground meat.

So, whether you’ve chosen to celebrate Ireland’s patron saint by attending organized events in Emmetsburg or Algona, or by consuming, on your own or with friends, more Guinness or Harp than you know you should, please, please, please respect the Apostle of Ireland enough to correctly identify him by the proper gender.

Erin go Bragh!

Barbara Wallace Hughes in the managing editor of The Messenger.