Tribute To An Irish Mother

Mothers will be celebrated throughout the United States this Sunday. When working on a post to describe the attributes of Irish and Irish American mothers, I came across this speech, delivered a number of years ago to a gathering of the Irish America Fund, by the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.

His heartfelt, poignant words, dedicated to his own mother, perfectly sum up the way I feel about my Irish mother.  My words seemed inadequate beside this beautiful tribute. I decided instead to share his eloquent speech with you today, as a tribute to mothers everywhere.

 

Tribute to an Irish Mother

 

“Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden is the soul, spirit and essence of what it means to be an Irish American.

 

She is spiritual.

She is romantic.

She honors tradition,

and understands the thickest of all substances is blood,

and the greatest of all virtues is love.

 

She has taught her children, all her children in my neighborhood who flocked to her hearth, that you are defined by your sense of honor and you are redeemed by your loyalty.  She is quintessentially Irish — a combination of pragmatism and optimism.

She also understands as my friend Pat Moynihan once said, there is no “point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.”

But she is more. She measures success in how quickly you get up after you have been knocked down.

 

She believes bravery lives in every heart,

and her expectation is that it will be summoned.

Failure at some point in everyone’s life is inevitable,

but giving up is unforgivable.

 

As long as you are alive you have an obligation to strive. And you are not dead until you’ve seen God’s face. My mother is a living portrait of what it means to be Irish – – proud, on the edge of defiance. Generous to a fault. Loyal to the end.

She made not only me believe, but scores of my friends and acquaintances believe in themselves. As a child I stuttered. She said it was because I was so bright I couldn’t get the thoughts out quickly enough. When my face was dirty, and I was not as well dressed as others, she told me how handsome I was. When my wife and daughter were killed, she told me God sends no cross a man is not able to bear.

 

And when I triumphed, she reminded me it was because of others.

 

She was watching through the kitchen window as I got knocked down by two bigger guys behind my grandfather’s home. She sent me back out and demanded that I, to use their phrase, “bloody their nose,” so I could walk down that alley the next day.

When my father quit his job on the spot because his abusive boss threw a bucket full of silver dollars on the floor of a car dealership to humiliate his employees, she told him how proud she was.

 

No one is better than you,

You are every man’s equal,

and every man is equal to you.

You must be a man of your word,

for without your word you are not a man.

 

When I was in eighth grade, I was a lieutenant on the safety patrol. My job was to keep order on the bus. My sister and best friend Valerie acted up. At dinner that night I told my mother and father I had a dilemma. I had to turn my sister in – it was a matter of honor. My parents said that was not my only option. The next day I turned my badge in.

I believe the traits that make my mother a remarkable woman mirror the traits that make the Irish a remarkable people. Bent, but never bowed. Discriminated against, but always looking down at their discriminator. Economically deprived, but spiritually enriched. Denied an education, but a land of scholars and poets.

As I look out at those massive Corinthian columns, I see my 5 foot, 2 inch mother, who stands taller in my eyes than any pillar in this room.

And I think of the Irish poem “Any Woman” by Katherine Tynan:

 

“I am the pillars of the house;

The keystone of the arch am I.

Take me away, and roof and wall

Would fall to ruin utterly.

 

I am the fire upon the hearth,

I am the light of the good sun,

I am the heat that warms the earth,

Which else were colder than a stone.”

 

- From a speech by Joseph R. Biden

 

Joe Biden’s mother passed away in 2010.  Her legacy is truly appreciated by her son. 

As an Irish American Mom I strive to be a straight-talking but supportive, encouraging mother, just like she was.

Wishing you all a very happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

 

Lá Na Máithreacha Shona Daoibh!

(Happy Mother’s Day)

Irish American Mom

Good Friday Traditions In Ireland

Good Friday is a strange name for the day the Son of God was put to death, but it is generally believed to be derived from the term God’s Friday.  To mark Good Friday, I thought I would share some photos of Irish Celtic crosses which I took last summer, and review some old Irish traditions associated with this holy day.

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In Ireland, this day was traditionally dedicated to penance, fasting, and prayer. Some Irish Catholics fasted completely until midday. Then at noon they only broke their fast by eating a piece of dry bread washed down by three sips of cold water, each sip taken to honor the Holy Trinity.

Hot Cross Buns cooling on wire rack

For those who preferred a little less Lenten austerity, one meal and two collations (snacks) were allowed on their Good Friday menu, but fish was recommended for the main meal.  Hot cross buns could be eaten for one collation.

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In the past this was a day of rest with little or no work completed on the land.  One minor task was allowed – good luck and blessings for the summer’s crops could be attained by planting a small amount of grain or seed potatoes.

In preparation for Easter, cleaning and tidying the house and yard was permitted.

No nail could be driven on Good Friday as a mark of respect. Carpenters definitely took the day off.

No animal could be slaughtered, since shedding even a drop of blood was frowned upon.

Fishermen stayed at home with all vessels and fishing nets remaining idle on this holy day.

Good Friday was never the day scheduled for moving house or starting an important project.

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Good Friday is not an official public holiday in Ireland, but banks and pubs are closed. When I was young no pub was open on this day, but I believe in recent years a few exceptions have been made.

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Good Friday is one of the best days to visit a graveyard or holy well.  On this day it is believed holy water has curative properties.

Silence is encouraged by many older Irish people. Remaining silent between noon and 3 pm is a sign of respect for our Crucified Lord, who hung on the cross for these three hours.

Celtic Cross at Cashel

Good Friday has always been considered a good day to die. I’m not sure if any day is a good day to die, but on Good Friday the Irish believe the deceased’s soul ascends straight to heaven.

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If you happen to be a migraine sufferer today is the day to cut your hair. Our ancestors believed a good haircut would ward off headaches for the coming year.  A good toenail and finger trim was also recommended on Good Friday.  Women and girls working in the house loosened their hair, allowing it to hang down as a symbol of mourning.

Penance was practiced by remaining barefoot throughout the day.

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In years gone by there were no fancy chocolate Easter eggs to be found in Ireland. Instead, eggs laid on Good Friday were marked with a cross.  These eggs were then cooked and eaten on Easter Sunday. Also if you were in need of healthy hens, setting eggs to hatch on this day was highly recommended. 

Those born on Good Friday and baptized on Easter Sunday often possessed the gift of healing.  Boys born on Good Friday were encouraged to join the priesthood, with the expectation they would become a parish priest or a bishop.

Crucifixion Carving at Cashel, Ireland

These old Irish customs show us that in days gone by, Good Friday was not merely a day to commemorate the sorrow of Christ’s death. Through these simple, solemn customs our ancestors found a way to remember Easter’s spiritual message of ultimate hope.

 

 

Beannachtaí na Cásca Oraibh

(Easter Blessings)

Irish American Mom

Thanksgiving – The Irish Connection

Believe it or not, the origins of Thanksgiving may have an Irish connection.  “No way,” I hear you declare, but incredibly a link may actually exist.

 

Thanksgiving - The Irish Connection

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Until now, I deemed Thanksgiving a totally American holiday with no ties to the old sod whatsoever. That myth was laid to rest this week by one of my blog readers. Her comment included a link to a very interesting article by the Irish Cultural Society of San Antonio.

This article piqued my interest so much, I just had to share this little nugget of Thanksgiving history with you today, on this special day of blessings.

And so, here I go again, claiming anything and everything has an Irish connection.  I’m nearly beginning to annoy myself with all this Irish pride. But then I realized you all share the same Irish pride, so I couldn’t resist writing a post about my newly found information.

My quick synopsis of the tale follows, but for anyone interested in further details, you can read the full story here.

 

The First Thanksgiving With An Irish Twist:

 

A North American winter was far harsher than the pilgrims ever imagined possible. During the first year in their new land they faced challenges of starvation, freezing temperatures and death. Their plight was so bad they even considered returning to England.

Salvation arrived, that first February, in the form of a ship carrying provisions to sustain them. ‘The Lyon’ arrived from none other than Dublin, Ireland, sent by a merchant and loving father, who was worried about his daughter. She had moved to the New World with her pilgrim husband.

Thanksgiving Wishes

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A Day of Thanksgiving was celebrated the day after the ship’s arrival.  I hope the Pilgrims shared some of their Irish bounty with their Native American neighbors.

Two hundred years later President Lincoln decreed the day a national holiday, but moved it to November.  When President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to move the holiday in the 1930’s, public outcry prompted a study to validate the origins of the holiday.

The Boston Post published an article which mentioned The Lyon’s arrival in New England as the reason for the first Thanksgiving. However, the article claimed the ship’s origin as England or Holland. Outrage amongst Irish American Bostonians spurred the writer to acknowledge Dublin as the port of origin. A correction was promised the following Thanksgiving, but was never printed.

And as with most controversies, time brought calm, and the origins of the first Thanksgiving were quietly committed to the annals of history.

And so the first Thanksgiving may have celebrated the generosity of a loving Irish father, shared by The Pilgrim Fathers with their Native American neighbors???

For me the key to  this holiday is that it remains centered on giving thanks for our many blessings.

And so, on this Thanksgiving Day, I wish you all a time of peace, joy and love, shared with family and friends.

 

 

Lá an Altaithe Shona Daoibh,

(Happy Thanksgiving Day)

Irish American Mom

 

P.S. A big thank you to Ruth for her informative comment on my post ‘Ten Reasons Why I Love Thanksgiving’.

Happy Halloween 2013

Tomorrow is Halloween or Samhain (Sow-in) as it is called in Irish. It is one of the most important festivals of the ancient Celtic calendar.

Halloween 2013

I must confess, I love Halloween. I have loved it since I was a little girl in Dublin. It comes a close second to Christmas, as one of my favorite days of the year.

Excitement is rising in our home. My four little ones can’t wait to don their costumes to run from house to house on their annual candy quest.

Lucky Halloween Boy with Cat

Image Credit

Halloween – The Irish Connection

 

As you get all dressed up in your costume this year, or light up your carved out pumpkin, remember that together we celebrate a holiday that is truly Irish and American.  Read more about the ever-evolving Irish-American tradition of Halloween in this post from a few years ago.

In ancient Ireland Oíche Shamhna or Halloween night was a celebration of the final harvest of the year.  An additional place was set at dinner to invite dead ancestors to the table. It was believed boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead were thinnest on this night. Spirits were free to move between worlds and rejoin the living.

 

Halloween Food

Irish Halloween Foods:

 

Now if you’re wondering what should be on the menu for your ghostly guests, traditional Irish Halloween foods are colcannon and barm brack or tea brack.

My carrot and coriander soup may not be traditional Halloween fare, but its orange color makes it perfect fuel for little witches and vampires before they head off on a long candy trek.

 Halloween Collage

Why I Love Halloween In America:

 

Halloween may have started in Ireland, but Americans truly know how to celebrate in style.  When I first crossed the Atlantic many moons ago, it was such a relief to discover Halloween is celebrated on an even bigger scale in America than in Ireland.  Check out this post to find my top ten reasons for loving Halloween – American Style.

 

Irish Faerie Folk:

 

Wonderful insights into the faerie folk of Irish myths and legends are available on the Got Ireland website. Many of Ireland’s infamous, magical, spooky characters of yore are explored in a series of supernatural posts, just perfect for Halloween.

 

Happy Halloween To All:

 

Now that the time has come to find those scary costumes, and trick or treat to the orange glow of  Jack-O’-Lanterns, I wish you all a very happy and safe Halloween!  I hope you enjoy a holiday full of spooktacular fun.

 

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh

(Happy Halloween)

Irish American Mom

Happy Lughanasadh

Happy Lughnasadh everyone.  Celebrated on the 1st of August, Lughanasadh (pronounced Loo-nah-sah)  is the third of the four ancient Celtic seasonal festivals.

Today marks the waning of summer and the beginning of autumn in Ireland. Seasons change earlier on the Emerald Isle than in North America. And today on Lughanasadh the ancient Celts celebrated the first harvest festival of the year.

Lúnasa is the modern Irish spelling for both the month of August and the festival. With my little smattering of Irish, I mistakenly believed the name was associated with the moon. As a child I used ‘luan’ as the Irish word for moon.

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Since I don’t trust my rusty brain, I decided I better double check the meaning, only to discover the more common term for moon is ‘gealach’.  Well, that got me thinking I better investigate my assumptions for Lughanasadh, and as expected I was a little off base.

The harvest moon is associated with the festivities, but the feast bears the name of the sun god Lugh.  Ancient Celtic Ireland was an agricultural community. On the first day of Lughnasadh Celtic farmers cut the first grains of the season, and families baked loaves of bread, marking the beginning of the end of summer.

Lugh, the ancient Celtic sun god, is credited with hosting the first harvest festival. His poor foster mother, Tailtiu, died from sheer exhaustion after clearing the brush and forestry from the central plains of Ireland for planting crops (another poor, over-worked Irish woman!!)

Lugh commemorated his foster mother’s sacrifice and dedication, by organizing a great feast and sporting competition. Let’s face it, he really should have just helped the poor woman clear the brush.

Over the years this harvest festival evolved into a great tribal assembly. Násad is the ancient Irish word for assembly. It became a time for making legal agreements, resolving disputes, and challenging competitors to great sporting feats.  Hand-fastings, or ancient Celtic weddings were also held on this date.

Reek Sunday Pilgrimage Croagh Patrick - © Copyright Alan James and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Reek Sunday Pilgrimage Croagh Patrick – © Copyright Alan James and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Image Credit

Since much of the festivities occurred at the top of mountains, climbing Ireland’s hills became associated with Lughnasadh. This tradition was Christianized over time, the most famous trek being the Reek Sunday pilrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick. Thousands of pilgrims climbed this famous Mayo mountain last Sunday.

 

And so today, when celebrations of Lughnasadh no longer

dominate Irish culture, perhaps we should just pause for a

moment, taking time to be grateful for the food on our table

and for all of our blessings.

 

Summer days are drawing to an end and evenings are beginning to grow noticeably shorter.  Lughanasadh is a time to begin reaping what has been sown, and to remember the ever turning cycle of Mother Nature.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom