The Irish Diaspora: Connecting to Our Roots
"The men and women of our diaspora represent not simply a series of departures and losses. They remain, even while absent, a precious reflection of our own growth and change, a precious reminder of the many strands of identity which compose our story".
- Former Irish President Mary Robinson
When I went to Ireland, one of the first questions the folks there would ask me was “well, are ye Irish?”
My personal ethnic background is pretty blurry; thanks to my long last name, Fedorowicz, I usually claim Polish and Czech, and enjoy the wonderful foods of sauerkraut and pierogies at family gatherings. My Mother and Father both claim that they have a little Celtic somewhere back along the line, but they’re never sure if it’s Scottish or Irish.
So my response was always, “I think a little, somewhere back along the line.”
And to my surprise, the reply back would always be, “Oh yeah, I can see it in your face.”
For many of my classmates, they made it their mission to track down their family lines while they were in Ireland. One of our professors supplied a thick book of Irish last names with the county that the family was from. The book was passed around as each student look up their last name, a mother’s maiden name, searching for the story of their roots.
The country of Ireland has seen a lot of leaving. The causes have been numerous; the tyranny of British imperialism, the potato famine of the mid-1800’s, the lack of resources in a largely rural country. Due to these factors, Irish people have spread out around the world, to England next door, America across the Atlantic, and Australia across a couple different continents.
These emigrants often left from a port in Co. Cork, on the eastern part of the country. When looking up their records, some of my classmates hit a bump here; the furthest they could trace their roots is the fact that their family left Ireland at this port. However, many people from all over Ireland left from that port.
For many Americans, their Irish heritage is an important part of who they are. Over 80 million people worldwide claim some Irish heritage, and around 30 million Americans claim Irish in their ethnicity. These Irish-Americans have brought Irish culture to this side of the Atlantic; from the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day to affecting the culture of American Catholicism, America would be a much different place without its Irish ancestry! Here in Michigan, we have several places where the Irish have left their mark; Roscommon and Wexford Counties were both named after Irish counties!
For the Irish people, the acknowledgement of the diaspora is an important part of the modern identity. The Irish Times, the most prominent of the Irish newspapers, often runs pieces on the Irish diaspora, or works to find Irish connections to famous visitors. The Irish celebrate the accomplishments of renowned people with Irish roots; the ancestral home of US President John F. Kennedy is a prominent visitation spot. As former Irish president Mary Robinson said, in a quote I used at the top of this post, the Irish diaspora matters. Irish emmigrants have affected the culture of places, but they have also affected the culture of the place that they left.
Tell us your family’s story! Where are your ancestors from? Do you feel connected to your Irish heritage?