By Liam O’Mahony
With St. Patrick’s Day upon us, it’s the most Irish time of the year and there’s a bit of green pride in all of us.
Growing up, I felt like the only Liam in Western New York; now it is one of the most popular baby names. While I am pleased, I lament it losing luster – especially when I hear it in a store and turn, expecting to see someone I know, only to see parents calling their son.
As I reflected on my limited exposure to Ireland as a youth, a few memories rose to the surface.
My Mom, of Swiss descent but with an Irish name, and Dad spent their honeymoon visiting relatives in his native County Cork.
When I was 6, my grandfather died and Dad flew home for the funeral. I never had the pleasure to meet my paternal grandparents, but I’m grateful for photos and stories about their lives.
I wrote a report about Ireland in elementary school with the requisite encyclopedia facts, not truly comprehending where Dad was from or that there were relatives an ocean away I would meet one day.
My aunt was the first relative to visit us in the ’80s. She was energetic, had a lovely accent and spoke of living “tree tousand” miles away. My older sister was the first sibling to visit our “unknown” relatives when I was in high school, and her photos motivated me to plan a trip.
I was 20 when I first touched down on the Emerald Isle with my younger sister to meet aunts, uncles and cousins – 19 in all, two of whom I have yet to meet. A cousin treated us to a traditional Irish breakfast at the famous Bewley’s Café and chauffeured us around Dublin. Then we headed southwest to towns like Cork, Cobh, Macroom, Skibbereen and Killarney. I soaked up endearing terms such as crisps (potato chips), nappies (diapers), lorries (trucks), craic (fun time) and “yer man” (that guy).
My uncle drove us to historic castles and coastal sites, and cousins probed us on American sports and entertainment as we walked to the pitch to try hurling and Gaelic football.
In the Newcestown pub, attached to the house where Dad grew up, we met locals who knew him and shared stories as my uncle tended bar.
My relatives inspired me, and wherever I lived or traveled after that trip, I gravitated to Irish culture:
• Collecting Irish movies, including funny ones like “Waking Ned Devine;” classics such as “In the Name of the Father” and “Michael Collins;” and sad tales like “This Is My Father.”
• Attending St. Patrick’s Day parades in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Phoenix before seeing the Dublin parade in 2011.
• Playing hurling and football with the Seattle and Phoenix Gaels to experience camaraderie with ex-pats.
• Obtaining an Irish passport; as a first-generation Irish-American, I was eligible and thought it would be beneficial for traveling in the European Union.
I flew to the old sod five more times because I loved seeing my relatives and enjoying summer nights in the villages, where you find the most generous, witty and gregarious people.
Dad returned to County Cork last April for his brother’s 80th birthday and had a grand time.
I am fortunate my relatives never tire of hosting their Yankee relations, and I hope to take my wife and daughter next year and let them see all the bliss that comes with being Irish.
Go raibh maith agaibh (Gaelic for thank you) to the O’Mahonys for welcoming me into their way of life, and sláinte (cheers; to your health) to Western New Yorkers for making it a great place to celebrate all things Irish.