I have read many blogs that try to describe,
what it is to be Irish.
They write about the way we speak English,
and our bad sign posting,
our culture, and our personalities.
I enjoy reading them.
However in reality here in Ireland,
we are just being ourselves,
and do not really think about our culture.
I had a great experience a couple of weeks ago,
that allowed me to sit back and observe,
exactly what it is to be Irish.
It was a beautiful sunny bank holiday weekend,
and my husband and I were invited to an Irish night,
called an Oiche Scriocht.
This is a night of singing and music.
The tradition goes back to the old days,
before television, radio or even electricity,
when people would collect in a house,
and enjoy a night of stories, songs, poetry and dance.
I grew up in Dublin,
but because both my parents were from Donegal,
I had some experience of rural Ireland.
However this was something very new.
Usually singing songs and telling stories,
comes at the end of a good night spent in a pub or a house,
where no one was left thirsty.
At an Oiche Scriocht the singing begins at 9pm,
and most drink tea!
It was a beautiful night, warm and bright.
The view from the house we gathered in,
was of rolling hills.
Ireland at its picture postcard best.
Gathered in the house were about twenty people,
of differing ages.
Many had travelled long distances,
including one man who had cycled over thirty kilometers.
The ‘Fear An Ti”, ( the MC) was a wonderful character.
He personified everything visitors wish to meet,
when they come to Ireland.
He speaks the most descriptive English,
and is deeply passionate about Ireland.
He began the night by introducing the first singer.
His intro went something like this.
“Firstly I’d like to introduce a great pal of mine,
a friend for over forty years.
He and his family lived just two fields away from us,
and I’ll let you know his was the bigger field.
And while I’m at it, I’ll tell you,
his family had a fine size of a farm too!
But sure we wont hold that against him.
Although my father often had a lot to say on the matter.”
And so he went on.
Telling stories or making witty observations about everyone,
before they would sing.
As I sat there I was enthralled.
I was so conscious of the rich tradition,
we were re enacting.
I thought of my blog and how I love to write.
Yet listening to the people there that night,
I realized writing is my second love,
real life story telling my first.
Maybe it is something in my DNA,
an inherited love going back centuries.
As I listened I heard more than the songs.
I could hear the voices of our ancient past.
Many of the songs were very old,
about Ireland, rebellion, love, and emigration.
It was impossible not to be moved,
by the beautiful lyrics expressing great sadness and grief,
as many said “Good bye” forever to loved ones,
or the loneliness of those for “the auld country”,
as they took up residence in America and Canada.
I did not wish for the night to end.
But eventually we had sung our last song,
and it was time for us all to drift away.
I left feeling so proud to be Irish.
However the sad reality is Ireland is changing.
Many in our country do not know our own language.
They are so intent on making us all European,
that they push French and Spanish,
and consider Irish a waste of time.
I had an Irish teacher who greatly influenced me.
I can clearly remember him saying,
“The British did not need to fight us so hard,
they could have waited for television to arrive,
and watch our culture die”.
How right he was.
My own children have even been heard to say,
“diaper” instead of “nappy”.
Slowly we are losing our identity.
I greatly fear our days of difference are numbered.
We are being swallowed up,
our traditions slowly dying.
I can only hope that whatever has been passed onto me,
from the generations before,
continues to emerge from within my own children.
I would love to believe that my grandchildren
will grow up to be,
the story telling, craic loving, hospitable people,
we like to think we are today.
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21 thoughts on “Are we Irish a dying breed?”
I want my grandchildren to grow up knowing Ireland is full of Irish. It’s what is so attractive about your beautiful Island Nation. It’s what we who’s ancestors left….dream about.
Hopefully we will still be as rough and ready then as we are now. We do have a lot going for us, I think sometimes we just lose sight of who we are. Keeping up with the world should not have to mean we ditch our traditions. 🙂
I think it is what many cultures fear. Everyone is blending, and blending is wonderful. But can’t we blend while keeping the cultures alive?
This is beautiful – moved me to tears and still smiling throughout! This line is especially powerful: “As I listened I heard more than the songs. I could hear the voices of our ancient past.” I think that as long as there are those who are willing to listen, as you do, these traditions will stay alive and be carried forward.
I have mixed feelings about my ancestors coming from many places, and I don’t feel I have a “homeland” in this same way, but I do my best to carry on the traditions from my Jewish ancestry that resonate for me. I am blessed to spend time in Hawaii where Native Hawaiians there are also making sure that the ancient ways, traditions, and teachings are carried forward, and it’s so beautiful to be a part of!
Thank you. I hope you are right. A growing number are educating their children through Irish. As long as we have people like my friend who was the fear an ti, I hope our traditions last many more years.
I was very interested in you saying you have no homeland as such. This is something that has never occurred to me. I always thought people would identify with some place. The jewish traditions are rich and very strong it is good you have them. I wonder do you feel more jewish than a member of any particular place?
I think I do, as being Jewish for me is more of an ethnicity, a belonging to a tradition, than it is a religion or part of my spiritual practice. My ancestors are from Russia, Romania, the Ukraine, and other parts of Eastern Europe. So I don’t find that I identify with a particular homeland, and feel a bit sad about that. Perhaps someday I’ll visit some of those countries and surprise myself by feeling “at home”!
That is something to think about. Many Americans come to Ireland and quite a few of them have that reaction.
I love you. We were told that our language and our culture and out history was wrong. I am Irish. I want my language back, I want my culture back.
It’s still there and very rich in places. I think all we can do is try to educate our children to appreciate it. Whilst they are young they may dismiss us but as they get older I think it will become important to them and the lessons learned remembered. In a small way by knowing my children can speak Irish fluently, and have visited and enjoyed different places in Ireland I have tried to promote our heritage. I don’t expect to change everyone.
When I was younger, I did not care much about traditions and culture. However, after having children of my own, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of having our own identity…
So true. If we give it to our children I think we have some hope. They may not really “get it” at the time but as adults you would hope they would.
Traditions, culture and history are so important otherwise we’re all just in one big melting pot.
And what a boring world that would be!
This is a wonderful piece of writing, and I have a very good friend from donegal, whomlives near me in the states. She goes back every summer to spend time with her family, and it sounds beautiful )
Thank you. Yes Donegal is absolutely beautiful and full to the brim with Irish tradition.
I was in mourning when I saw you were in Freemantle. Happy days for me!!
I identify with much of your post, tric
The situation is much the same in Scotland. There are very few now who still have the gaelic. And a lot of the old words and customs are dying out. Strangely, it is Scots no longer living in Scotland who tend to keep the old customs intact
One of the social highlights of my year is a gathering of 60-70 Scots (all men) from Birmingham, Walsall, Tamworth, Lichfield, and Coventry area who meet up for a ceilidh in a wee village Hall. We pay £15 each – which buys a lot of whisky and beer
During the evening we then drink as much as we can while folk get up and sing songs, play the pipes, guitars, tin whistles, or tell jokes, funny stories to entertain the company. It is a wonderful night and we get a wee bit teery eyed at times as the songs bring back memories of home
That sounds perfect except for the men only! In the village where I live there is a very strong Irish culture. Every month they have a ceili and people travel over 100 km to attend it! It is not my thing though much to my husbands disgust.
I wonder will the push for Scottish Independence up the “Scottishness” feelings amongst Scots?
I just love this poetic and heartfelt post. Not to worry, the Irish spirit will survive; you are evidence of that.
Thank you. It will take effort by those involved in education, but hopefully you are correct. I would hate us to lose what I take for granted, especially our language, and music.
American is swallowing up everything, in much the same way as Roman did. But never mind, the irish will survive – in zoos. Like Australia!
Ha ha. I guess as long as we’re fed and watered we’d thrive. 🙂