Are My Children Irish Or American?

Many years ago an American friend once asked me if I considered my children to be Irish or American.  I didn’t hesitate for one second before I answered emphatically:


“My children are American.”


I feel very strongly that, as an Irish-born mother of four American kids I must try to raise them without any trace of an identity crisis.  I want them to be proud of being American, all the while embracing their Irish heritage.

This is no mean feat.


Identity Crisis


My Own Childhood Identity Crisis: 


I grew up in Dublin, but both my parents were from County Cork.  I spent a lot of my childhood on my grannys’ farms, but when I was there I always knew I was not a true Corkonian, even though I had as much Cork blood flowing through my veins as any of my cousins.

Now Cork people are very proud of their county.  There is a saying:


“Irish by birth, Cork by the grace of God.”


This line was made famous by Cork’s most illustrious soccer playing son, Roy Keane, when he used it in his autobiography.

I remember feeling different when visiting Cork.  There, people loved to call me “a little jackeen”.  The problem was in Dublin, I was not truly viewed as “a Dub”.  I heard the term “culchie” more than once, an Irish term for someone born in rural Ireland. I didn’t know where I belonged.

I don’t want history to repeat itself with my little ones, so I am doing my best to raise four proud Americans.


My Little Americans In Ireland:


When we were back in Ireland last year my Mom asked my four-year old son what he learned at school.  We were all sitting around the kitchen table, enjoying a cup of tea and a biscuit after dinner.

“I learned about America,” he replied.

“Oh tell me what you learned,” she asked.

“I learned this.”

He stood up on his chair and placed his hand across his chest, before devoutly reciting the pledge of allegiance:


“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of

America, and to the republic for which it stands,

one nation under God, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.”


We all clapped, but my mom looked a little shocked.

“That was lovely,” she stuttered.

After the kids had gone to bed, my Mom confessed his beautiful recitation of the pledge made her feel very emotional.  It was the first time she realized my kids are Americans, first and foremost.


My Son Realizes He Is Different To Other Kentuckians: 


When we returned from Ireland to Kentucky after a lovely summer with family, my oldest boy was full of the joys of Ireland.  He spoke about it constantly, so much so, one friend at school grew tired of listening to his talk of the old sod.

“Why don’t you go back to Ireland?” the little boy asked.

My son was devastated.  He cried on his pillow that night as I tucked him in.

“But I’m American, mom,” he sobbed.  “I’m your Dallas Cowboy.”

I held his hand and cuddled him, reassuring him he was my little Texan.  When he finally fell asleep, I said a little prayer, knowing the issue of true identity may be with my children through life.  Only they can answer the question of identity for themselves.


A Story For Our Immigrant Tales Section:


Last week I was contacted by Damien Fox, a young American writer from Chicago.  Damien’s parents were both born in Ireland.  When he grew up he had to determine which path he wished to follow (a decision my children may also face).


Did he wish to be Irish, all the while living in America

and pining for a country he visited as a child?


Is he a proud American, choosing to belong to a vibrant

community of family and friends?


He wrote a heart-warming and poignant piece about his Irish American journey, sharing the story of his personal identity crisis.  Come back tomorrow to read his brilliant guest post.



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)



Irish American Mom



  1. Hi Mairead, The best thing about growing up as an American of Irish descent was any of the insults we Americans sling against each other never seemed to affect us. The same thing that annoys citizens of Ireland, is worn as a badge of honor in America, we characterize ourselves as Irish. So tell him he has the best of both worlds, American through and through, but with a connection to Ireland most Irish Americans will never know.

    • Brian – “The best of both worlds!” I like that. My eldest boy is American through and through, and a Texan to boot, but with a link to Ireland that is ever so strong. My father has even traced our family back to the early 1700’s, so he will know exactly where he came from on my side.

  2. Melissa says:

    I guess most of us up in New England, and especially in the Boston area took a different track on this than other areas of the country did. We solved the problem by identifying as both American AND Irish, and if anyone has a problem with that, we’ll have words with them. Then again, the area has a rather large Irish population and a lot of back and forth between the two countries, so it’s never really occurred to us to be anything other than both. Even those of us whose families came over a little earlier than others (my own, for example, came over to escape the Famine), consider ourselves American by birth, but Irish by blood. There are no identity problems, it’s just who we are. More things I didn’t realize about other regions, I guess!

    • Melissa – The ties to Ireland in the Northeast of America are ever so strong. As you move further south people know they may have Irish heritage, but know little else. Few can trace their families back to the time of the Famine like you can. When my son was learning about Ellis Island last year he had to complete a project on where his family came from. He was so disappointed when he was the only one in his class who could only claim heritage from one country. “But everyone else has lots of places like Italy, Germany, England, France and Native American,” he exclaimed. “Why do I only get one country?” It’s amazing how differently a 7-year old perceives his genealogy.

      Thanks for visiting and for your insightful comment about being Irish American in New England.

  3. Irish American Mom = Irish American Kids! And I agree, they have the best of both worlds. Some day they’ll realize how incredibly lucky they are to be able to go back to the country of their heritage and actually feel a connection to it through living relatives. Most of us who have a mixed lineage have no real connections anymore to any of the places our ancestors came from….

    • Grammy – I think you are correct. They are Americans, but truly Irish Americans with incredibly strong ties to Ireland in Dublin, Cork and Donegal. They not only get to see Ireland frequently, but usually get to travel from one end of the island to the other as we visit all of our relatives and friends.

  4. Though I have a few generations back to feel your pull for Ireland ,I was raised as both Irish and American and proud of both. It was not an easy task for my Grandma who did handle it well. Our love of folk music both American and Irish helped us express it best.

    I consider myself, “American by birth, Irish through ancestry and by the grace of God.”

    • Chris – I hope my children will be just as proud of both their American identity and their Irish heritage. I like your statement “American by birth, Irish through ancestry and by the grace of God.” Thanks so much for adding to our little discussion.

  5. B. P. Costello says:

    It sounds like you have an interesting personal history relating to Ireland. My opinion is that your children are a little bit of both Irish and American especially with you being a first generation Irish-American. Given enough time, however their descendants will become thoroughly American in the same way that Icelanders who are descended from Irish Christian slaves brought to Iceland by the Vkings 1100 years ago are now thoroughly Icelandic. It’s ironic that a Kentuckian kid criticized your son for talking so much about Ireland. Kentuckians — especially those in the coal towns — have more in common with Irish people than probably any other groups of Americans. The only difference is religion. The typical Kentuckian is a Baptist and the typical Irishman is a Roman Catholic. But that is only because of geography. Culturally and spiritually, people in Ireland and Kentucky have a lot in common with each other.

    • I agree that Ireland and Kentucky share many cultural links. I think it is why I feel so at home here.

      I hope to keep my children’s ties to Ireland as strong as possible, yet I know that with each passing generation my descendants will become thoroughly American – which is perfectly fine with me. Perhaps I will preserve some of my blog writings for posterity, so my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have something to read, to learn about their old, Irish grandma, who first came over from the old country.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving such an insightful comment.

  6. Jenn Ross says:

    I can really relate to this post. I am the first one in my family to be born in the US from Ireland. I consider myself an American, but I feel very connected to Ireland. When I go to Ireland, my family will say “Welcome home” and I do feel at home. I feel at home here, too. We are lucky we have the best of both :-)

    • “The best of both worlds” – so true Jenn. My kids love Ireland and feel so welcome there, but they are Americans through and through. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience as a first generation American.

  7. Mikayla Walsh says:

    Hello there! not really sure how I came across this but I know exactly how your kids feel! I’m always torn about what I am. My parents are from Sligo but me and my brothers are living here in Chicago. Every summer we go home for a few weeks. In Ireland I feel at home but I still am “the American cousin” and when I come back I’m known as the Irish girl by all my friends. I always feel bad because I talk about Ireland to my friends all the time! I think they get a bit tired of it. But anyways I love being American and Irish too! I just have a hard time with balancing them both. My mom and dad are both very proud of their nationality so I’ve grown up with irish food sports friends events and everything like that. Then I think about going to college were my cousins go in galway. but I’m just afraid of being the odd ball! I just don’t know where I fit in! 😛 I like it how you raise your kids as americans. :)

    • Mikayla – Thanks so much for joining in our discussion about what it means to be Irish. I understand how you feel when you are in Ireland and are called ‘the American cousin’, but as soon as you return to America you are Irish. If you think you might enjoy going to college in Galway, then I say don’t worry about feeling like an oddball. You’ll fit right in. It can take some time, but the longer you spend in Ireland, Irish people will accept you as being Irish. The key to acceptance is time.
      All the best,

      P.S. Galway is a wonderful city and a fantastic college town.

  8. Mikayla Walsh says:

    Thank you so much! another thing is Im not sure wether I should start college here and then transfer over or just start fresh there…..I feel like if I started there I would settle in and be able to meet everyone. If I wait Im worried that it might be hard. Whats your thoughts?

    • Mikayla – Irish university courses are structured very differently to American courses. In Ireland we enroll in a course of choice for the duration of the degree, which may be four years. Our third level education is not structured on a credit system like it is in America. I’m not certain if you can get credit for American courses if you plan to graduate from an Irish college. However, you may be able to get credit from an American college for time spent studying in Ireland. You may have to do a little research with the college you are planning to attend.
      Best of luck as you plan your future.

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