Some of my ancestors were from Ireland. Since my maiden name is McCarthy, I have always felt that it’s perfectly acceptable to observe St. Patrick’s Day in some form. But there is a bit of a back story, and sadly, I don’t know much of it.
Here’s what I know about my Irish background. My great grandfather came to the United States from Ireland and settled in Pittsburgh. I’m pretty certain that I still have relatives in or around Pittsburgh, but I don’t know them. My dad took some of us there many years ago to meet his Aunt Lucille, but she has long since passed and so has my dad. My great grandfather worked for the railroad, and my great grandmother died fairly young, leaving the oldest daughter, Margaret, to raise the rest of the children.
My grandfather was William Hugh McCarthy, who settled in Warren, PA. It was there that he married my grandmother, who was of Danish descent. They adopted my father when he was an infant, and seven years later had a daughter, my aunt.
My grandfather had a brother who left Pittsburgh and never returned. He apparently was never heard from again, so there may very likely be McCarthys I am related to that I don’t know.
My grandfather used to spend St. Patrick’s Day downing quite a few beers, and then singing Danny Boy – I’m pretty sure in memory of his long, lost brother. This is actually one of only a few memories I have of my grandfather, who died when I was just nine years old. He was not a warm and affectionate person, but we later realized that he probably had been suffering from cancer for quite a few years and just didn’t know it. My grandmother was a dear, sweet, loving woman who died just a few years after her husband. They were both smokers, which I am certain led to their early deaths.
Although my father was adopted, he always considered the McCarthys his real family and had no need to seek his birth mother. His allegiance was with the family that took him in, gave him a home, and raised him. They doted on him as a child. There are numerous photos and stories to prove just how well he was loved; adored, in fact.
My father always observed St. Patrick’s Day and really milked the Irish ancestry bit. It suited his personality quite well. Born Irish or not, he had the gift of gab and loved to socialize. He was a true extrovert by nature. He was also a drinker for many years, so the whole concept of St. Patrick’s Day was right up his alley.
All five of us McCarthy children were given Irish names. I consider myself lucky to have escaped Siobhan, only because most people can neither speak it, nor spell it, correctly. My father really wanted to name me Siobhan, but my mother was far more practical and put her foot down. (Thanks, Mom!)
In my youth, we always had corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. We did not subscribe to the policy that all foods consumed on that day had to be green, and I still don’t really understand the “green beer” phenomenon, although my dad found that any type of beer went well with corned beef. Later on, when my siblings and I grew older, we enjoyed our share of Guinness, Irish whiskey, and Bailys Irish Cream to observe the day.
Since my father’s passing sixteen years ago our family has done little to celebrate St. Patrick, who may or may not have driven the snakes out of Ireland. We still wear green, and may have a Guinness, and may enjoy some corned beef with or without the cabbage. But we don’t wait for a single day in the year to honor our Irish heritage and the McCarthy family that so lovingly raised our dad. I almost always wear a claddagh ring, and have some other much-loved Celtic knot jewelry as well. It is beautiful, and it is a reminder that my ancestors had a hard life, came to America to have a better life, and still worked very hard to improve the lot of each generation that came after them.
There are hundreds of thousands of immigrant stories in the United States. My family tree, on both sides, blossoms with interesting leaves and fruits, some of which are green. Today, even while I wish I knew more about them, I celebrate my Irish ancestors. Sláinte!