It’s my tenth Saint Patrick’s Day without getting rotted in the name of celebrating my “heritage.” And yet this is the first time I’ve really sat down and attempted to write about what that means.
It’s funny. My last name is McColgan. My mother’s maiden name is Flaherty. HER mother’s maiden name was Coyle. McColgans, Flahertys, Coyles, and Dorseys are all over my family tree. It can’t be mere coincidence that I grew up to be a writer, AND an alcoholic, right?
Nobody loved to get stinking blotto on Saint Patrick’s Day more than I did. It was a lot of fun, until it stopped being fun. And I never wanted to be one of those people in recovery who sneered at everyone drinking their green beer (although even when I WAS still drinking, I never would resort to that fuckery). I do, now, question the sense in honoring what it means to be “Irish” by promoting the stereotype of the falling-down drunk.
(Google “simian caricatures of the Irish” sometime, and then I would respectfully ask you to think about that before you hit the bottle.)
Last year, around this time, I wrote a poem:
a toast of jameson at the grave
plastic cups a quarter full of
brilliantine amber all around me
as we sing the wild rover and
for the briefest of seconds I forget
that I’m supposed to refuse the cup
we usher our dead through
with tears and poitín
and my hand grasps at air
as I stare at blanched ground
thinking I’ve betrayed my own
an old man next to me
elbows my arm
sometimes it’s better NOT to drink
and he hoists his empty hand
to the sky – sláinte – and beams
I can celebrate what it means to me to be an American of Irish descent without a pint (or three) of Guinness. I am not “missing out” on anything today. I was brought up with many other values, and absorbed and observed many fine characteristics and talents from my Irish, and Irish-American, relatives. I love a good story. I can tell a good story. In the bleakest moments, I can find humor. I am fiercely loyal to those who have shown me kindness.
Beannachtaí na Feile Pádraig! Be careful out there.