Tuesday, February 6, 2018

My American Ethnic History: Ireland

Raven's Heart © Jen Delyth of Celtic Art Studios

They will not criminalise us, rob us of our true identity, steal our individualism, depoliticise us, churn us out as systemised, institutionalised, decent law-abiding robots. We refuse to lie here in dishonor! We are not criminals, but Irishmen! This is the crime of which we stand accused. Never will they label our liberation struggle as criminal . . . Our revenge will be the laughter of our children.”  

(Bobby Sands, Bobby Sands Trust, 2012).

I am multi-ethnic. My parents were born in America; however, my great grandparents emigrated from Ireland and Germany. I closely identify with my Irish ethnicity, equal with my German ethnicity, because I am taught about this side of my ancestry. My Mother is 100% Irish and has done extensive research. My Father did not relay anything to me regarding my German heritage. It will be up to me to research that on my own. 

My Mother’s family originates from Counties Cork and Clare in Munster, the southernmost province. This is integral when considering the still present illegal occupation of Northern Ireland by Britain, and only The Republic of Ireland, or the South, is free. 

I do not support violence or present day Irish Republic Army, however, in the early 1900’s and before, specifically the Easter Uprising, Éirí Amach na Cásca, and the need for the formation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, into the IRA, was crucial for the Irish to rise up against Britain.  

There were various groups before the IRA, such as the Irish Citizen Army, Irish volunteers, and various leaders that contributed to the uprising, such as Patrick Pearse, Pádraig Pearse, and Michael Collins, Míceál Ó Coileáin.

Bobby Sands, Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh, a poet, writer, and political prisoner, is an activist I admire because he, along with many, perished for the betterment for and freedom of Ireland. Bobby Sands was born in North Belfast in a Nationalist Irish ghetto. 

He was a member of the Provisional Irish Republic Army, and led the 1981 hunger strikes when Irish Republican prisoners protested against a “special category”, that political prisoners were granted status similar to a POW, or prisoner of war.  

Britain revoked this right in 1976. 

The prisoners endured immense physical beatings, solitary confinement and torture during the hunger strikes. Bobby, while imprisoned, was elected an independent MP, a nonpartisan Member of Parliament, who supported the prisoners’ cause. 

Amnesty International reported in June 1978, that, “Maltreatment of suspected terrorists by the RUC, [Royal Ulster Constabulary] has taken place with sufficient frequency to warrant establishment of a public inquiry to investigate it.” (Bobby Sands Trust, 2012). 

Ten prisoners died in the hunger strikes. 

Other privileges were restored and over time, the hunger strikers' demands were met, but the British government never made formal recognition of the prisoners' right to political status.          

Irish history is not only involved with activism, politics and famine. The nation and people are abundant with spirituality, folklore, tradition, storytelling, oral history, myth, poetry, writing, art, music and nature. The reliance on oral history is prevalent in Ireland via song, music, storytelling, dance and writing. 
In regards to the culture and arts of Ireland, The National Gallery of Ireland has rare archives of 41 watercolors of West of Ireland pre-Famine scenes by the artist William Evans. In addition, there is Pathos of Distance, 42 images relating to Irish migration and diaspora, created between 1813 and 1912 by Sarah Pierce. Unfortunately, the collections are not viewable online. 
Welsh artist, Jen Delyth, of Celtic Art Studios, promotes the spirituality of Ireland.  Internationally known writers are from Ireland such as Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, W.B.Yeats, C.S. Lewis, Frank McCourt, Patrick Pearse, and Jonathan Swift.  
Ireland is adamant on keeping tradition alive, rejecting assimilation, which in one way, relates to the Irish immigration to America. 

The Great Hunger, an Gorta Mór, in 1845, also known as The Irish Potato Famine, “occurred” due to a fungus that killed potato crops, “Because the tenant farmers of Ireland—then ruled as a colony of Great Britain—relied heavily on the potato as a source of food, the infestation had a catastrophic impact . . .  the Potato Famine resulted in the death of roughly one million Irish from starvation and related causes, with at least another million forced to leave their homeland as refugees.” (History.com, 2017).  

Ireland had elected representatives that were Protestant British landowners, of British origin and in 1801; Ireland was a colony of Britain until the War of Independence. Both nations were known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Northern Ireland is still oppressed by Britain. In relation to the Great Famine, Britain did nothing to help the Irish. Britain allowed the Irish to starve to death. 

Ireland continued to export large quantities of food, primarily to Great Britain, during the blight . . . even as the Great Hunger ravaged the countryside.” (History.com, 2017).  1 million Irish men, women and children starved to death and another 1 million emigrated to escape poverty and starvation. 

This is the Irish Diaspora. 

Before, during and upon emigration, the Irish endured horrid conditions and were treated poorly upon arrival. After the blight, seven years of forced famine, barefoot mothers held dead babies and begged for food. Dogs fed on human corpses. People tried eating grass to survive and desperate farmers sprinkled their crops with holy water. Hollow figures roamed Ireland’s countryside searching for food. Typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis and cholera ravaged Ireland and horses carted dead bodies to mass graves. 

Upon leaving Ireland, 5,000 boats transported refugees onto converted cargo ships, used in the past to transport slaves from Africa. The Irish were hungry and sick, spent all their money for this trip just to be treated like baggage. The air was full of excrement and vomit. One adult was allocated 18 inches of space, children half. A quarter of 85,000 passengers aboard “coffin ships”, died and the bodies were wrapped in cloth, weighted with rocks and tossed overboard. 

The refugees seeking haven in America were poor and disease-ridden. They threatened to take jobs away from Americans and strain welfare budgets. They practiced an alien religion and pledged allegiance to a foreign leader. They were bringing with them crime. They were accused of being rapists. And, worst of all, these undesirables were Irish.” (Klein, 2017).

Arrival in America fueled hostility and anger. Not only were the Irish poor and starving, they were Catholic in a Protestant America. Besides Africans, Native Indians, and the Spanish, Irish, along with other European immigrants, were the only non-Protestants. 

In regards to my own identity, Irish history influences my behavior, beliefs and actions immensely. Due to what the Irish have and still endure, I became an activist and advocate early on and supported, and still support people under constant persecution such as Native Indians, African Americans, the LGBTQIA spectrum, Muslim’s, specifically Palestine, Pakistan and the Rohingya in Myanmar, as well as human rights in general.

Society in general identifies me, Irish American, as drunken, alcoholic, rowdy, trouble making, loudmouthed, bigoted, criminal, and uneducated. People say things to me such as: Go eat a potato, Where is the bar? Irish people are loud, dirty and stupid, Go have a drink, and You are angry because you are Irish. People have even asked me if Irish people have orange hair like leprechauns.

Saint Patrick’s Day in America is an American created celebration. In Ireland, this is a feast day. Patrick was an indentured servant, a slave, and March 17, St. Patrick's Day, is the closest believed historical date of his death. 

Contrary to popular belief, this tradition, St. Patrick's Day, [parades, green beer and shamrocks] did not originate in Ireland. Patrick wrote two short works, the Confessio, a spiritual autobiography, and his Letter to Coroticus, a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians. 

During these times in America, I visit the Irish Famine Memorials. 

While researching National Archives, knowing my family originates from Counties Cork and Clare, along with my family surnames, Kelly and Meaney, I searched births, marriages and deaths in Ireland. 
My search returned, “Birth, marriage and death certificates for Scotland or Ireland cannot be viewed or ordered at The National Archives” and “Many Irish records have not survived and people tracing their Irish ancestry may need to refer to local records and archives as well as national sources.” (National Archives, 2018).     

The National Archives of Ireland stated that in order for me to search for civil registrations, go to Family Search for periods 1845-1958 and that all of Ireland is available from 1845-1922 and only the Republic of Ireland from 1922 to present. 
On Family Search, I searched Migration and Naturalization records, specifically, United States Famine Irish Passenger Index, 1846-1851 and Genealogical Records that include counties, spouses and children. I started with Genealogical records. My great grandmother was Johanna Kennedy; my great grandfather, Joseph Kelly, both from County Clare on my grandmother’s side. 
Although there are numerous records for my great grandfather, none reverts to my ancestry. I search County Cork, Patrick Meaney and Ellen Broderick from my grandfather’s side. Again, records do not relate to my ancestry.

On Family Search, Migration and Naturalization records, specifically, United States Famine Irish Passenger Index, 1846-1851 I started with my great grandmother, Johanna Kennedy and great grandfather, Joseph Kelly from County Clare. 
There are numerous records; however, this can be my great grandfather;  Joseph Kelly, emigrated June 1846, from Ireland to NY, 25 yr. old male, birthplace, Ireland, born 1821. 
On the same index, I search for my ancestry from County Cork, great grandparents, Patrick Meaney and Ellen Broderick. Again, there are numerous listings, however, Pat Meaney, a 23 yr. old male departing from Limerick in 1851, can be my great grandfather.

In addition to national records, as suggested by National Archives, local history for Ireland is available, however, it will take physically visiting places with details of my ancestry. 
The first place to visit is The Buffalo Irish Center and the second, the Buffalo and Erie County Library. Both institutions have genealogical resources available. 
My second eldest sister visited Ireland twice and was able to further conduct research my Mother began. My sister brought back two family trees from both sides and counties outlining not only both families, but the coat of arms and what the last names signify.

Researching one’s ethnic history is imperative in preserving tradition, storytelling and history. In addition, is it crucial to acknowledge and accept one’s identity, regardless of what history reports. 
In my experience, research that has been accomplished, in addition to current findings, enhances the desire and need to visit Ireland. The other half of my ethnicity, German, will be interesting to research as well. Then one day, I too, will wish to visit Germany.

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For Further Research: 

Bobby Sands Trust * Natives and Strangers: A History of Ethnic Americans * National Gallery of Ireland. From Galway to Leenane: perceptions of landscape * Family Search. (2018) United States Famine Irish Passenger Index, 1846-1851 * Irish Potato Famine. History.com * When America Despised the Irish: The 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis * National Archives. Births, Marriages and Deaths in Scotland and Ireland * National Gallery of Ireland. Pathos of distance.

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