Irish Roots

Novermber 2nd, 2009

John Grenham


One aspect of Irish genealogy that irritates English researchers is the disproportionate attention Irish research gets in North America. After all, there are many more Americans with English ancestry. Why should Irish ancestors be so much more attractive?

As an answer consider the Milwaukee Irish Fest. Over three days in August, more than 100,000 people pour through the Festival site, taking in an extraordinary range of Irish music and dance, buying Irish books, CDs and leprechaun snow-globes, drinking beer, eating Mother Machree's deep-fried Irish strudels, watching the Celtic Canines dog-show, and talking at great length about their ancestors to the poor souls manning the genealogy tent. After my own three days a few summers ago listening to the family histories of what seemed like every single one of the 100,000, I can vouch for the truth of US genealogist George Handran’s comment: "Irish is sexy". Even Americans with no Irish ancestors want to know where they can get some.

Milwaukee also has much smaller Russian, Italian, Mexican, and German festivals, but there is no such creature as an “English Fest”, any more than there is an "American Fest", and for the same reason. For all the recent changes in the demography of the US and Canada, English is still the default identity. And whereas the initial English settlers thought of their journey as an escape from religious repression, most of the Irish were driven from their homes by overwhelming deprivation. Someone forced into exile is a lot likelier to value memories and traditions, and to pass those values on to their descendants. One of the strangest (and most common) experiences an Irish visitor has in America today is to meet someone with a Lithuanian or Italian surname, with a single great-grandparent born in Ireland, who describes themselves as "Irish".


Comments and suggestions are welcome, to irishrootsatirishtimes.com.


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