Friday, March 13, 2009

"A light in the window": The sign of welcome for 70 million cousins

The title of this blog, A light that shines again, was inspired by a poem by Christopher Pearce Cranch, a 19th-century American preacher, artist and poet. Thought not Irish, and certainly more well-off than the 19th-century Irish-American immigrants on whom this blog focuses, Pearce's words describe well the poor and often forgotten lives of my ancestors and that of many of their contemporaries, and remind me of an old Irish tradition.

Here is an excerpt from Cranch's poem that was read at the 250th anniversary of the first church in Quincy, Massachusetts:

“…Nor less should we forget the worthy sons
And daughters who through centuries lived and died
Unknown to fame. The muse of history shuns
Their buried records. Gathered side by side
In yonder burial ground, they leave no signs
Save in half-obliterated lines
That tell their birth, their death. Yet not in vain,
Fathers and mothers, were your humble lives;
Each in its turn an influence that survives,
A light that shines again
In sacred memories, and in hearths and homes,
Vital as greater names that gild historic tomes…”

History does so often "shun the buried records" of those who "lived and died unknown to fame". Yet, the "humble lives" of my Irish ancestors, particularly those that I celebrate here on this blog and on Small-leaved Shamrock, are a saga of survival: survival out of the great Irish famine, survival out of the American industrial age, survival into the modern age in the lives of myself and others of my generation who have sprung from their seed. I hope that in some small way this blog will enable their stories to be passed on to at least one more generation.

I found the words of another poet thought-provoking, this one a modern Irishwoman of the 20th-century. Here is Eavan Boland's The Emigrant Irish:

"Like oil lamps, we put them out the back —

of our houses, of our minds. We had lights
better than, newer than and then

a time came, this time and now
we need them. Their dread, makeshift example:

they would have thrived on our necessities.
What they survived we could not even live.
By their lights now it is time to
imagine how they stood there, what they stood with,
that their possessions may become our power:
Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parceled in them.
Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering
in the bruise-colored dusk of the New World.

And all the old songs. And nothing to lose."
My own ancestors represent only a small number of the many Irish people of the 19th-century who beat incredible odds to survive the largest humanitarian disaster of their century and emigrate from their native land to a new country. Many of you reading this have similar family stories to tell: stories of survival, stories of courage, and tales of odds that were overcome by your ancestors as they struggled to make a life in a new land.

Today the descendants of many brave Irish emigrants number in the millions. There are approximately seventy million people of Irish descent living throughout the world.

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson sent a special message to the great Irish diaspora during a speech on February 2, 1995. Her words, recalling the simple Irish tradition of placing a candle in the window to welcome visitors, are heart-warming to those of us who long to keep alive our Irish roots. Here are the words of Mary Robinson:

"At my inauguration I spoke of the seventy million people worldwide who can claim Irish descent. I also committed my Presidency to cherishing them - even though at the time I was thinking of doing so in a purely symbolic way. Nevertheless the simple emblem of a light in the window, for me, and I hope for them, signifies the inextinguishable nature of our love and remembrance on this island those who leave it behind."
As we approach St. Patrick's Day this year, plans are in order for a family celebration in my home. There will be green decorations, shamrocks, Celtic music, traditional Irish dance, and images of St. Patrick. There will also be a candle in the window: a symbol of thankfulness for the heritage that our struggling Irish ancestors passed down to us, and a symbol of welcome to any of our seventy million "cousins" who might want to join us in celebration.


If you have Irish descent, then you are a member of the worldwide Irish diaspora of which Mary Robinson spoke, and you and I are part of a group of seventy million "cousins"! If that is the case, take a few moments to visit the Seventy Million Project. It is "a social project to find, map and connect the Irish diaspora worldwide". It is "not about Ireland, but about Irishness and all that it means to people of Irish heritage worldwide." Visit the website today and put yourself on the map as either a first, second, third, fourth or fifth-plus-generation Irishman or woman.

You might also enjoy visiting the new
Irish Central which is being unveiled March 15. Billing itself as an "Irish website and social networking community", it plans to "use the power of the Internet to create a home for the more than 70 million people around the world who identify themselves as Irish". Irish Central plans to be a hub for Irish news, the home of Irish America magazine and the Irish Voice newspaper, a source for editiorial and video coverage of travel in Ireland, a Gaelic translator, a resource for Irish family history, and more.


jaycee said...

Hi, my name is Jean Carrick and I am on Twitter also. I desperately need information on my 3xGt.Grandmother, Mary Ronayne born and married Waterford, Ireland in 1819. Do you have any records from Ireland? Incidentally, I spent 5 years in the USA 1958 onwards, lived in Quincy and worked in Boston, lawyers office next to Old South Meeting Place then on Long Island.
my email is really would appreciate hearing from you. Jean

Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Hello Jean -

Somehow I overlooked your comment until now. I am very, very late in replying, but if you still need some direction in beginning your search, visit my article "Seeking the Flock of St. Patrick: Researching Catholic Ancestors in Ireland" over at The Catholic Gene for an overview of the search for roots in Ireland. You can find it at Happy searching!


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