The Irish American Influence – Guest Post By Brighid O’Sullivan

Brighid O’Sullivan grew up hearing Irish folk tales from her father in Western Massachusetts. She’s been writing short stories since she was a child and as an adult has written for History Magazine, History Channel magazine, and her local paper. She works full time as a nurse and has just published her debut novel, The Sun Palace, a story of history and magic set in 6th Century Ireland.

In today’s guest post, Brighid introduces us to the Irish American influences that have inspired her writing. 

 

The Sun Palace By Brighid O’Sullivan:

 

In 2007, I began writing my first novel, The Sun Palace. I knew nothing about Ireland or her history, had not known my great grandparents who emigrated to America, nor had I ever been to Ireland. What I did know about being Irish was given to me by my father, though that knowledge consisted of a few Irish folktales, playing records (yes, records!) made by Irish musicians, leprechauns my dad swore were like his guardian angels (an American view actually), rides on a St. Patrick’s day float in Holyoke Massachusetts, and lots of “blarney”. My dad was full of stories, most of which I did not believe.

Parade Happy

So why did I set my novel, The Sun Palace, in Ireland?

I started to read more than ever, which soon led me into European and Irish history, as well as novels written by Anne Rice, Morgan Llywelyn, Sebastian Barry, and Diana Gabaldon. I have a passion for anything historical and I love books. I collect and read all sorts of history, European as well as American, beginning and ending with Ireland, a place I grew to respect and love.

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Writing fiction is a laborious activity but writing historical fiction is even more so. There are all those research books one must read, buy, borrow, steal, and find!

I knew that, and like I said, I love history, but imagine trying to remember all those stories by heart like the druids did, or worse, what if books were actually forbidden? Lots of things were forbidden in the beginning of Ireland’s conquest by the English. To name a few, having an Irish name, Irish dress, and Irish trade, and we all know how the divisions of religion came to be.

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I read somewhere, there are more Irish in America than in all of Ireland! According to several statistics, 89,000 Irish emigrated from Ireland in 2013 but 55,000, many of them European, immigrated to Ireland! I believe that, because I’ve since been to Ireland twice and upon landing in Dublin for the first time, found myself saying, “so where are all the Irish?”

In one of my blog posts on my website Celtic Thoughts I talk about how if there was no Ireland there would be no America. For every accomplishment, from the beginning of America’s independence, to putting a man on the moon, Irish men and women have been part of the equation.

The fact that I am a writer goes back as far as the original bards in Celtic Ireland. ‘Tis in my blood and who I am. Blood that was shed for Ireland and America both … blood lost in wars, famines, mass emigration, prejudice and even death. I cannot help but feel grateful for such a sacrifice.

The Sun Palace

Oh and my idea for The Sun Palace? That grew from the kernel of a thought, after reading Tristan and Isolde, an Irish love story.

Check it out on Amazon and if you are generous enough to leave an honest review on the Amazon website, drop me an email about it @celticbrighid@gmail.com. I welcome all positive as well as constructive criticisms. As a much appreciated thank you, I will make sure you get my next published novel FREE.

My name is Brighid O’Sullivan and you can find me on Twitter, Pinterest, and on my website Celtic Thoughts writing about Irish and Irish American history.

 

Thanks so much, Brighid, for introducing us to your writing and your inspirations. Wishing you every success with The Sun Palace, and all of your future writing endeavors.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

 

 

The Crest – A Documentary Film About Two Descendants Of The King Of The Blaskets

“Two descendants of an Irish king journey to the island he once presided over — not to reclaim the land, but to surf the waves.”

This tagline captured my imagination. Today I am delighted to share a guest post, written by Eliza Kane, co-producer of an amazing documentary film, The Crest

It tells the story of two descendants of the King of the Blasket Islands who have never met.  Patrick Kane’s (in Irish Pádraig O Catháin’s) great-great-grandsons have inherited a deep seated love for the ocean and surfing.  Upon discovering each other, they arranged to meet for the first time in the land of their unique heritage, to explore their history and satisfy a desire to conquer the dangerous water of The Blasket Islands. This week their dreams will become reality.

 

Here is Eliza’s story……

 

The Blasket Islands

View Of The Blasket Islands From The County Kerry Coast

I grew up hearing tales about a legend of Irish culture, the small collection of sparsely populated isles off the coast of West Kerry known as the Blaskets. Though beloved in Ireland for their rugged beauty and the iconic folk lifestyle that prevailed there since approximately the 11th century, not many Americans are aware of this magical place – I happened to be more fortunate because my father’s family hails from it.

Still, I never expected to play a role in passing those stories on by co-producing a full-scale documentary. That is, not until last summer, when through a nexus of fateful alignments Butter Flavored Films green lit the project; I came on board to assist my brother John, who had fostered the idea into a solid pitch.

There have already been many studies on the fishermen and families who settled An Blascaod Mór, the Great Blasket Island. Historians and literary scholars are fascinated by its time capsule-like preservation of pre-Anglicized gaeltacht culture, the wealth of Irish-language memoirs and poetry that emerged from so small a community, and the eventual demise of the island.

Painting Surf Boards On The Blasket Islands

Andy (the east coast cousin) painting surfboards handmade by Dennis (the west coast cousin) in front of their great great grandfather’s house on the Great Blasket.

It was evacuated by the government in 1953; the reasons given spoke to the welfare of the last inhabitants: the fundamental unsustainability of their lifestyle given limited resources and dwindling youth, the unrelenting danger of the waters that separated them from the mainland, and perhaps most poetically, their growing loneliness.

But the film my brother and I are producing will not be a mere re-telling of what is already known and romanticized about the Blaskets; it will instead revive the ghosts of those lost generations by telling its own story, one set in the present day. This story features two direct descendants of the most famous Blasket king, Padraig O’Cathain (Kane), American cousins who happen to have their own reckless love for fatal waters: they have both devoted their lives to surfing.

Denis 'DK' Kane

Denis ‘DK’ Kane

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Due to the separation of Kane family branches when their parents were young, Dennis “DK” Kane and Andy Jacob just found out about each other as adults, only some months ago. While doing research on his unique Blasket roots, DK was able to track down my brother John. When we realized this long lost cousin seemed to be a west coast version of Andy, with whom we’d grown up on the east coast, we knew they had to get acquainted – and they will, meeting for the first time during Ireland’s historic reunion of international offspring, The Gathering.

During this weeklong celebration we are documenting the meeting of these youths and their attempts to catch the waves that both kept their ancestors protected from cultural genocide and ultimately pushed them out of their reclusion and into the American frontier. We will also capture what it is for these two boys to discover each other while grown and to re-graft the severed branches of their family tree in the country of its roots.

Andrew Jacob

Andrew Jacob

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It could seem that I am enamored with this story because it belongs to my family, but I would argue that truly, it is the story of everyone who has emigrated and of their children’s children who grow up elsewhere. We, the grand- or great-grand children of immigrants are often reminded of the fact that we are not just American, and yet it remains a mystery as to what that something is.

For example, all my life people have approached me and said, “Let me guess – you’re Irish.” I suppose that with my fair, freckled complexion and fiery hair it seems a safe bet, and genetically speaking, it is right on the mark.

Literally, however, I am only American, as are my parents and theirs.

So how much am I actually Irish, if at all?

 

Did I only inherit a stereotypical silhouette,

or might something of my ancestors’ homeland

and their passions have been transmitted as well?

 

Arriving On the Blasket Islands

The Surfers & Film Crew Arriving On The Blasket Islands This Weekend.

These are questions every non-native American must shoulder, whether or not she addresses them consciously. There looms the shadow of an orphan complex among all of us who are descended from the pioneering spirits of immigrants. It is natural to crave reunion, to look backward and beyond our current circumstances to understand their origins.

The Irish intuit that stories like DK and Andy’s are out there waiting to be told, which is why they have organized the Gathering to invite us back. And we, the estranged children of Ireland, are only too glad to go and be embraced by the culture that birthed our families into being.

To learn more about our documentary, “The Crest”, please visit www.crestmovie.com

We will gratefully accept pledges to our fundraising campaign via Kickstarter through the morning of 4 June 2013, after which support can be directed to elizakane@butterflavoredfilms.com. Thank you!

Eliza Kane

Eliza C. Kane

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Eliza C. Kane earned a BA and MA in literature with a concentration in Eco-criticism. She has taught anglophone literature and writing at University of Massachusetts Boston as well as Lycée Félix Esclangon in Provence, France.

Originally from Vermont, often on the road, now based in Cambridge, MA, Eliza works for the Alliance Française and devotes her free time to creative writing, conceptual art, and other narrative projects such as this one. Her work has appeared in such publications as Inertia Magazine, Ekleksographia, nthWORD Magazine, Stranded in Stereo, San Diego CityBeat, and The Mass Media.

 

Thank you for this wonderful article. Wishing Eliza and her team every success with this fabulous project. I hope your fundraising efforts will help bring this documentary to fruition.

Enjoy every moment of your time in Ireland and County Kerry, Eliza. I hope your experiences there will help you reconnect with the land of your ancestors. Although you may be first and foremost an American, your Irish ancestors’ passions for life, storytelling and adventure runs deep in your veins. As an Irish woman born and bred, I say you and yours will always be Irish too.  I look forward to watching the finished documentary.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

“Diaspora” – Do I Like Or Loathe The Word?

The word diaspora is tossed around by the Irish media pretty frequently these days.  The term refers to people scattered far and wide, living away from their ancestral homeland.  The Irish Diaspora is estimated at 80 to 100 million people worldwide.

I first took note of the word about five years ago when I was watching a documentary about the Irish diaspora. The term struck a chord with me. Initially as I watched I totally disassociated myself from any diaspora, thinking it referred to people whose ties to Ireland dated back over many generations.

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Irish Famine Memorial – Philadelphia

Image Credit

Realizing diaspora is an ‘in vogue’ word in Ireland, I researched the term online.  I quickly came to realize I am part of this infamous scattering of Irish people across the world.  I decided then and there I disliked the word.  I am still not sure if  I like or loathe it.

 

Every time I say it I think in alliteration.

“The desperate diaspora” reverberates in my mind.

 

When I hear the word I feel left out, as if I am not good enough,

not Irish enough anymore.

 

I often feel people in Ireland don’t know what to make of us diasporians (I am making up words again).  As an Irish-born, American immigrant visiting my homeland, I am not sure if I really fit in.

The Irish are deeply conflicted about immigrants.  I know most Irish people will contradict me, saying they welcome us with open arms.  We’ll always be considered Irish in our homeland.

That is, you’ll always be Irish as long as you’re sitting down having a laugh, sharing a drink or two, and joining in the sing-song.  The minute you try to talk about Irish life, politics, or career, you are shut down with a smile and a quick change of topic.  Interviewing for a job is not for the faint of heart, and whatever you do, don’t even think about offering advice.

 

 

Years ago I interviewed for a job in Dublin.  At that time my husband and I were seriously contemplating returning to live in Ireland.  One woman on the interview panel was clearly not impressed with my American experience.

“I see you are in America, now,” she said with an insincere smile.

 

“Oh no!  Here we go!” I said to myself.

 

And there we went alright.  At least ten times during the interview, she told me:

 

“But you’re an American now.”

 

In her mind I was part of this “desperate diaspora” who, if hired, might interfere with the Irish way of doing things.  She imagined me telling everyone “but this is how we do it in America.”

I felt like Tom Beringer’s character in the movie “The Field” with the Bull McCabe roaring at me:

 

“Go home, Yank. Go home.”

 

And that I did.  I came back to America.  At that point in time my American evolution was incomplete.  I could not say I was coming home to America.  With hindsight, I can now say it was a blessing I came home to the States, reclaiming my place as part of the Irish diaspora, dispersed to the four corners of the earth.

So how do I feel about this word many years later.  I still don’t know if I like it or loathe it.  Yet whatever my feelings may be, I have no choice but to accept my reality.  I am part of the Great Irish Diaspora.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Finding Home On The Road Taken

Damien Fox is a young American writer who lives in Chicago, Illinois.  Today, Damien shares his story of finding home in America as a first-generation Irish American child of immigrant parents.

Damien Fox

 

Finding Home On The Road Taken

 

My grandmother cried the day my mother’s crisp burgundy passport arrived in the mail. And she had reason to, for soon her daughter would leave Ireland forever.

In the southwest of Ireland, unbridled Atlantic waves crash upon a picturesque County Clare coastline. Surrounded by rolling hills and lush green meadows, the West Clare landscape delivers well in favor of Ireland’s renowned “forty shades of green”. A few kilometers from that Atlantic coast, lie two quaint homes tucked away in the quiet countryside from which came the two most important individuals in my life.

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An Irish Passport

Nationwide recession blindsided Ireland in the late 1970s. The dawn of the 1980s triggered panic and discouragement within a generation of Irish people faced with high unemployment, inflation and public debt bringing many to an ill-fated crossroads: to stay or to go? This ultimatum swept the country as desperation quickly absorbed the island’s youth. When push came to shove, decade long fiscal stagnancy provoked the emigration of over 200,000 skilled and educated young people, victimized by an economy struggling to sustain itself.

Among those who left to settle in foreign ports of call around the world were my parentstwo fresh-faced, naive twenty-something-year-olds exiled to a new life in “The Windy City,” with only one another and two modest suitcases in hand.

And there, I truly believe, is where my story begins.  As far back as memory will bring me, I have always identified myself as being “Irish”.

When JFK visited Ireland in June of 1963, he was quoted as saying,

“[Ireland] is not the land of my birth, but it is the

land for which I have the greatest affection.”

 

My own unwavering affection for my ancestral homeland would come to define me throughout my life.

My love affair with my heritage began at just two years old. Congressman Bruce Morrison’s 1992 visa program granted 48,000 green cards to Irish expatriates in the U.S., ending my parents four year wait to return home to Ireland.

The time had come for my two-year-old self to meet my entire extended family for the first time. A tripod would no longer be necessary to take family pictures.  The people in the photos that hung upon the walls of our home would finally come to life.  And I would finaly meet the family in whose lives I had only ever existed through Kodak photographs and carefully crafted words in countless letters mailed across the Atlantic.

Young Damien On An Aer Lingus Flight To Ireland

The arrivals hall of Shannon Airport was filled with love as our relations waited in anticipation for the Aer Lingus 747 carrying our family to touch down on Irish soil on January 31st 1992. Dressed in a grey suit and forest green tie, I clung to my mother’s hand as she gently led her little Yank to meet a family that already felt so much love for someone they had never even met.

Instantly, I felt at home.

My life revolved around Ireland from that day forward. With the births of my siblings, came the opportunity to pass along my love for Ireland and everything it stood for. As family trips home to Ireland were planned, calendars were created to count down to our departure months in advance. Bags were packed weeks prior for a journey that would result in late nights, sleepovers and generous relatives slyly slipping us a few “quid” behind our parents’ backs. Ireland was heaven on earth. There was simply no place I would rather be.

Tearful goodbyes scarred my childhood when our vacation time would end. Little did we know on occasion our “goodbyes” were quite final, for when we returned again, God would have called someone home. Saying goodbye before our return trip to America left me devastated; tears would fall as we drove through the winding roads en route to Shannon, leaving our family behind us. Onboard the plane, I would strain my neck during take-off, trying to take in every view of Ireland before the pristine landscape would be lost beneath the clouds below.

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Aerial View of Ireland

Image Credit

Growing up 4,000 miles away from Ireland was difficult for me as a boy. My parents built a wonderful home for us in Chicago, but most times I could only dwell on being away from Ireland. As our grandparents would pass away, we stayed behind while our parents made their lonely journey back to an Ireland that would never be the same, inevitably leaving them orphaned when they reached the other side.

As I grew into my teenage years, my love for Ireland never diminished, making it especially hard when recession reached American shores in 2006 and trips home came to a halt. With the housing market the first to go, my parents, like most Irish builders, were left invested entirely in a stagnant general contracting business and subsequently victimized economically for the second time in their lives. Left with high debts, mortgage payments, and school tuitions, trips to Ireland became a leisure that our family could no longer afford. At this time, my world was completely invested in a place across the Atlantic.

No one warned me of the trouble that could occur in investing everything I had in something that could be easily taken away. But here I was, seemingly left with nothing—no extended family and no real relationships with anyone besides my immediate family on which to build a new life. I was left behinda shy, reserved young manand I did not find it fair. My days were spent alone watching RTÉ online, immersing myself in Irish history and obsessively pricing flights home.

I could not continue on like this. Luckily, I arrived at a crossroads, facing my own ultimatuman almost “fight-or-flight” response. And I was going to fightfight to step outside my own comfort zones to find my notion of home in America and make my young years, the best years of my life.

 

And I did.


An examination of my own surroundings helped me to recognize a close-knit Chicago community that I could find a place in; a place not much different than the Ireland I had left behind where I could bring my background and experiences to a unique collective where people’s differences, as much as their similarities, made them friends. Looking back, I shudder to think how life would have been had I not come to find “home” in America.

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Chicago, Illinois

Image Credit

 

I have not returned to Ireland now for over half a decade. Luckily, my relationships established in childhood have remained strong to this day despite the distance, while new relationships and experiences have shaped a successful, happy life in America. However, would I change anything if I had the chance? Never. These experiences have shaped my identity, making me the person that I am today. My parents’ journey has paved the way for my own.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

 

And it has. It truly has.

 


Go Raibh Maith Agat, Damien

(Thank You, Damien)

Irish American Mom

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?

Or

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