Well, it’s St. Patrick’s Day and the one-quarter Irish blood in my veins is flowing green. Courtesy of my sainted granny, born Bridget Moffet on a bleak farm hard by the Atlantic coast of Ireland, I am one-quarter irish. Truth be told, I feel more Irish than than anything else, I suppose because of my mother Mary who raised the four if us, and the woman who raised her that lived right upstairs and was a profound influence on all our lives. Plus, of the other three quarters of my ancestry, there weren’t many people in Brooklyn who came from Spain or French Canada, so there wasn’t what you would call a lot of interaction and role-modeling going on there. My father Ray, who’s parents came from Spain, didn’t even speak any Spanish, and my mother’s father Arthur Prunier, the Lake Placid-born French Canadian, spoke only French until he went to school and only English afterwards. There were and are, however, no shortage of Irish Americans in Brooklyn, as much a part of the place as Coney Island or Prospect Park, and a powerful presence.
Both men in our lives deferred to the ladies in the house when it came to rearing the four boisterous kids, so at least this American mutt feels the tug of my Irish ancestry more than any of the other parts. I can’t speak for my brother John and sisters Beth and Nancee, but I do know that my brother has been known to dye his beard green and go on the Key West St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl, as bizarre a way as any to celebrate one’s Irish Heritage, I suppose. And St. Patrick’s Day is quite often about bizarre celebrations, probably having very little to do with being Irish. After all, he wasn’t Irish either. By most accounts, Patrick was an Roman-Briton missionary, a former slave who escaped, got religion and went back to Ireland to spread Christianity.
My Grandmother the farm girl assured me he didn’t drive all the snakes from Ireland and history assures us very little about the man except that he existed. One supposes he’s as good a Patron Saint as any other, their lives being best shrouded in mystery and mystical lore. But the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day does serve to remind us all of the great Irishness of the whole world, whether or not you’re lucky enough to have any Irish blood in you. The Irish Diaspora has resulted in 80 million people so far (about 14% of everybody alive) with irish blood in them spread all over the world, pretty impressive for an Island nation of less than 6 million. And the Irish have left their mark on countless nations and have been part and parcel of the history of a lot of places besides Ireland.
Here’s a few names of displaced Irish or part Irish: John F. Kennedy, George Washington, William Howard Taft, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, both Presidents Bush (okay, they can’t all be hot stuff), Jefferson Davis, Henry Ford, Audie Murphy, Gene Kelly, Grace Kelly, Diamond Jim Brady, John L. Sullivan, Ed Sullivan, Michael Moore, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John Huston., Harrison Ford, Georgia O’Keefe, Rosemary Clooney, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip Barry, Jean Kerr, Frank McCourt, Mickey Spillane, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Regis Philbin, James Hetfield, Bing Crosby, The Dorsey Brothers, the McGuire Sisters, Billy Corgan, Judy Garland, Jim Morrison, Gerry Mulligan and Jack Dempsey.
Those names are only the tip of the tip of the iceberg, and that’s without even mentioning the Irish gangsters who played as big a part in history as many politicians and artists. And that’s only the American Irish or part Irish. How about a couple of decent Irish-English songwriters you may have heard of, working class kids out of Liverpool named John Lennon and Paul McCartney? They didn’t do so bad for themselves and the rest of us. Or a mixed blood kid out of Jamaica with an Irish name, one Bob Marley? There’s also Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, many nations of the Caribbean and South America and all over Europe and the far East where the Irish have spread their poetry, their hard work, their infectious spirit, their humor and their stubborn determination to have their say.
Well, the Irish have had their say and continue to do so and the world is a better place for it. So strike up the band and let the parade begin. Hear the bagpipes screech and watch the cheerleaders brave the cold on 5th Avenue’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Everyone’s Irish today and this part-Irish American remembers Bridget Moffet Prunier with pride and still learns from her so many years after she’s gone. She gave me love, laughter, patience and the benefit of her simple but profound wisdom, which I often ignored to my own peril before realizing I had the answers I needed when I was a child at her knee. But being part Irish, I had to bang my head on a few walls just to be sure they were as hard as I was told they were. Luckily, when I came back down to earth it was into the loving arms of the teachings of an Irish Granny. Here’s to you, Bridget, and all the love you passed down to so many of us. You live on in a hundred descendants. Happy Paddy’s Day, and may the wind be ever at your back.