Sunday, May 3, 2009

Irish in America, Part II

(The first part of this blog appeared on March 18, 2009)

If we don’t have a history, then I think we invent one. Preferably a long, involved one that shows we descended from royalty. Even in democratic America, it usually takes only a week or so of a new presidency before someone publishes an article tracing the ancestry of the new president back to some or other British king. In fact, even before he was officially nominated, President Obama’s ancestry was traced back to both a king of Scotland (William the Lion, d. 1214) and England (Edward I) (

Or if we can’t have a distinguished ancestry, then we will have at least a colorful one. I have been told that Australians now brag about being descended from convicts—especially those that arrived with the first fleet. I have yet to meet anyone that bragged of their descent from generations of accountants and bureaucrats. The popularity of genealogy these days is a testament to the importance of finding roots.

There are some amazing efforts of peoples to recapture their history. Those of us old enough to remember when Roots first appeared in 1977 know the power of restoring their history to a people. The existence of Israel is a powerful reminder of the power of both faith and history—perhaps most remarkably for the restoration of Hebrew as a living language after centuries where it was used only for liturgical purposes.

Texans are a special case among Americans when it comes to recapturing their heritage. Most Texans don’t look back to long lost ties to the old country, but back only 150 years or so to the days when Texas was on the western frontier—the time of cowboys, cattle drives, and Judge Roy Bean, the Law West of the Pecos—for their own history.

You see similar, if less strong, tendencies wherever there is enough local culture to make it interesting and if not there is always (except for Native Americans) an old country with colorful customs to adopt.

I don’t know that it matters whether any of these connections are true or not, so long as the myth behind them allows us to find our place in the world.

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