My Irish Heritage


The great journalist, Joe Sinisi, once told me, “You have to go back to your native country. You have to know where you come from”.

Ireland has always been a country that’s on my bucket list to visit someday, all the more so after I received this fascinating infographic from the guys at The Water Filter Men ( – they fit water filters to Irish homes.

The graphic charts the many legends that are associated with Ireland’s rivers, adding weight to the country’s global reputation as masters of ancient storytelling. It can be debated as to whether or not these tales are actually real, but sometimes it can be better not to get hung up on historical accuracy, or otherwise these compelling stories may not have stood the test of time as they have done.

Some of the tales mentioned in the graphic are heart-warming; others rather more chilling. The River Barrow carries a tale which encompasses both of these polarized descriptions. Beside this river is a fort where a monarch was murdered by his brother Covac, who in turn forced his nephew Moen to eat the hearts of his family, resulting in him losing his speech. Prince Moen later recovered his ability to speak and gained revenge on Covac.

The nearby River Nore, meanwhile, is associated with the first woman in Ireland to be burned at the stake. Her master was married four times and murdered each of her husbands in suspicious circumstances near the river before fleeing the country, leading to the servant being tortured for information on the misdeeds of her master.

There are many more intriguing historical tales emanating from Ireland’s river, and this infographic carries just a portion of the plentiful urban legends stemming from Irish history.

As Americans, we are at a slight advantage–and slight disadvantage–of being ‘the melting pot of cultures‘. An advantage, because there are so many different versions of being American that one could possibly never get bored. We have a wide expanse of food, of places to go, things to do. If I hosted a foreign exchange student, I am not quite sure they would ever get the full American experience by just being in Colorado. I spent last weekend in Newberry, South Carolina, and experienced some great bbq, porch parties, and that famous Southern charm. But, I would also argue that big cities, eclectic restaurants, and football are distinctly American as well. Hiking, rodeos, amusement parks are American. Driving in cars, CostCo, farmer’s markets are American. There is so much to American culture.

We are reaching a time in our history where all the World War II veterans are dying off, as well as our cultural heritage to our homelands. While immigration will always be prevalent, the great migration that once made America unique is beginning to subside, and eventually, we will no longer identify with our Dutch, or our German, or our Russian roots like we historically have. My great-grandparents were Irish and German immigrants, and my Opa and Oma were Dutch immigrants, and I spent a majority of my childhood practicing pseudo-European traditions: tea time everyday, visits from St. Nicholas, windmills and model railroads (and, unfortunately, pickled herring). However, the chances of me marrying an immigrant myself is very slim because the cultural groups who once came from other places have now molded into what we know now as ‘Americans’, and I fear my children will never be able to identify with their own cultural heritage.

One of the reasons I think travel is SO important for 20-Something’s is because travel allows self-identification. As Joe suggests, we HAVE to know where we come from in order to understand ourselves. My family is surely not French; we don’t really appreciate ‘fine art’. We don’t sit in a cafe half the day, drinking coffee (although I do wish I had that luxury as an option). I remember standing in a discotheque in Paris, and had a moment of realization that I could see over every single person’s head. Dutch people are tall (probably because they needed to sprout long legs to keep afloat in the canals), and French people are short, and therefore, I will probably never marry French. My family is not Italian. Red wine makes our cheeks turn funny colors. We are not fashionable and could careless about owning ‘real Italian leather’. Venice is too dirty, expensive, and has too many gypsies to be considered ‘romantic’ (Remember, the Dutch are ‘frugal’). We would NOT enjoy living with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. My family is slightly German. We are punctual, can be described as ‘cold’ and ‘unemotional’ at times. We are very focused on our careers, believe work makes better people, and appreciate productivity and efficiency. Although these are stereotypes, and not all French are short, not all Italians drink red wine, and not all Germans are unemotional, these stereotypes allow us identifiers to latch ourselves onto.

But, what we really are is Irish. I did not realize just how Irish we were until I stepped off the plane in Dublin, and there were no people; Ireland is an introvert’s paradise.

You do not go to Ireland for the “beautiful city-scapes” and “world renowned museums” like you would other countries. It is apparent that, while the imperialists were building their own empires, Ireland was just trying to stay afloat. The architecture of the capital is nothing too exquisite, but it is the people that make it worthwhile. Like the Midwest, you don’t go to Ireland for the city; you go to Ireland for the land, and for the people. After breathing in the unpolluted, oxygenated air, my lungs felt so clear and renewed. I suspect that, since the weather is often rainy and cooler, Irish people developed their culture indoors, which is why there is a thriving pub culture. I can’t tell you how soul-reviving it was to sit inside a pub and listen to the traditional Celtic sounds. The lyrics are witty, the fiddles are quick and longing, the melodies toe tapping and genuine. You can feel the spirit of the musician radiating as he plays.

The Irish, although proud of their land, live in reality; they will openly tell you about their country’s strife and economic recession. They will share their stories of divorce, and the F bomb is a normal part of speech. But, perhaps the part that resonated the most with me about being Irish is the people’s revolutionist history. All of my favorite people are Irish, Scarlet O’Hara, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and all of these people, to some extent, are shakers themselves. I come from the O’Connell clan, and I was not surprised to find out that one of our ancestors, Daniel O’Connell, was perhaps one of the most influential Irish political leaders who lead the people to a revolution against the imperialist British. I am for sure a shaker, and clearly get that piece of me from being Irish (I mean, Oscar Wilde once went to prison for being gay). I never do anything the status quo way. I wear bright colors, teach potentially borderline topics, speak up when I see an injustice occurring. My family is extremely opinionated, vehement with our discussions, and sometimes hot-headed. We do not always get along, and often times, family gatherings end up in some kind of month long quarrel. But, life would be boring any other way.

In my very opinionated view, we must know where we come from, because knowing where we come from helps us to understand our own sense of self. Now I know why I am an introvert, tend to get too heated about political issues, and love string instruments. “We must know where we come from”. When we have a sense of self, we know where we come from, why we react in the ways that we do, we are much more content with ourselves, and our lives are much less stressful.

The next locations on my list? The Netherlands, the home of my other forefathers.

For more information, check out this interactive story map:

2 Responses

  1. Interesting piece. I agree, important to know, experience and breathe in your own unique heritage. I always miss certain elements of Ireland, the fun, the humour, the music… And the ease of conversation! Need regular top ups to remind me of my own heritage. Thx.

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