Monday, March 16, 2009

irish girls

Sean, I'd say the best one came
from Tupelo, Mississippi
I'll tell you now that grown men cry
and Irish girls are pretty
- The Proclaimers, "Sean"

My maternal great-grandfather was Irish and this, along with many Canadian mutts, gives me the right to claim that I, too, am Irish. Grampa Sam and I shared a love of classic literature (he would read every volume that his nine children would bring home as part of their school curriculum) and wit. He passed away before I was born but I grew up in the Muskoka cottage he built from scratch and have visited the gravesite of his little sister, Ellen (or "Ellie" as she was affectionately dubbed; a name so affectionate, Sam had a habit of accidentally using it for my mother, Lois), in Donegal, Ireland.

Despite being pale, freckled, and predisposed to quarreling, my only personal tie to Ireland was a 10-day visit in 2000. For most of the trip my friends and I camped out at Laurie's house, who was a resident of Newtownards, a suburb ten miles from Belfast. My most vivid memories are of her kitchen and living room as we didn't leave the house for three days due to the infamous Orangemen Parade 'celebrations' that year. Several cars in the neighbourhood were missing when we ventured out of the house on the third day, replaced with blackened pavement and debris.

When nearby relatives of mine heard that I was in the area they offered a tour of Donegal and a meal. Although I forgot to ask them for distinguishable traits (colour of car, stature, age, or any other method of telling them apart from other Irish) I recognized the entire family at the bus depot by their round, snubbed noses. They looked like Uncle Foster's nose. They looked like grandma's nose. They looked like my mom's nose. They looked like my nose. A "ski jump", my father calls it.

Donegal stretches wide, long, windy and seaswept along Ireland's northeast coast, many of its thatched-roofed and whitewashed cottages are still intact. The grass really is greener and the sea, although sun-shiney, looked and felt chilled. Even on that cloudless, midsummer afternoon my cheeks and Irish nose flushed pink in the wind.

Ellie's grave lay in a quiet church plot, a simple stone plaque. Around it grew miniature daisies and sparse, very green Irish grass. I pressed a few daisies in my passport before I left the gravesite.

Since my mother secured her Irish citizenship a few months ago through her grandfather's line (her - real - Irish friends are unimpressed), the possibility of getting my own is one step closer. The only draw would be flaunting rights, a shorter waiting line at customs when I decide to visit again, and perhaps a drink on the house on St. Patrick's Day. I think Sam would wink his approval.


Lois said...

awww... thanks for writing this Sehw!!! <3

Andrew G said...

Wonderfully well written, my love. Soon we'll both be EU citizens...