If you're lucky enough to be Irish...

St. Patrick's Day is nostalgic for me. In high school, I marched in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York each year with the marching band.  We always performed "New York, New York" and to this day, when I hear that song, I remember my whole swing flag routine. I also remember falling in my slippery white go-go boots in front of Central Park. Even with the drunks heckling me, I wasn't phased.

I was lucky enough to be Irish and marching down Fifth Avenue.

Then I went to school in Ireland for my last semester of college and felt more American than ever.
I remember one of my Irish cousins asking me, "Do you feel Irish?" 

I didn't know how to answer that question.  In New York, people automatically assume that I'm Irish because of my name and how I look. 

In Ireland, there was no question I was a Yank.

What I do know, is that St. Patrick's Day and feeling Irish have a lot to do with my family and traditions.
My paternal grandparents, Mary & Ben Conaty in Greenwich Village in the 1950s.
I love this photo of my grandparents for so many reasons:
The vintage quality. The window into that era. The story that I conjure when I look at it.

They look happy.

I don't have too many memories of my grandmother being well,
but I have a ton of my grandfather.
He was a tough man in many ways.
There was a lot about him that was hard to love.
There was a lot about him that was mysterious to me.
He was often grumpy and a curmudgeon.
He was a bit like Archie Bunker.
But to me, he was also funny and sarcastic,
and I loved him.

I know he was not an easy man to have as a father.
He was not your typical doting grandfather either, but
he had a soft spot for me and we had a special bond.
I know his life was hard.
I'm not sure just how so, but I think it made
him who he was, for better or worse.
He was the oldest of many children.
He left Ireland alone, around the age of 20  and never went back.
Didn't keep in touch.
Didn't want to talk about it. 
Told me not to visit Ireland.
"They won't let you in when they hear your name is Conaty."
Mysterious. Curmudgeon. Grumpy. Sarcastic.

Not long before he died, over Thanksgiving dinner,
he told my brother and cousins and I
stories of his speakeasy hopping days with my grandmother.
Soon after that, over tea at his kitchen table,
he told me about meeting my grandmother on the ship
when he emigrated from Ireland.
They were both from Cavan, he from town, she from the country.
They lost track of each other until fate intervened
a couple of years later at a Cavan Ball in New York.

I am so grateful that as he aged, he told me these stories.
The man was usually an oyster.

He was an impeccable dresser.
Even during a heat wave, he wore long slacks
and a button down shirt. 
 I remember seeing him in his fedora.

Maybe that's why I love that Eamon suddenly wants to wear bow ties.

He came to this country, worked hard and raised seven children
with my grandmother, who I hear was pretty saintly. I wish I had known
her longer and better.

He died when I was nineteen.
I miss him and think of him nearly every day.

St. Patrick's Day is just a way for me to feel connected to him, to be proud to be
his granddaughter, to have carried his name and hopefully have learned from his life.

I think he would be proud  and even softer today if he could see these two
kiddos, who are lucky enough to carry a little piece of his Irish along with them.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!



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  2. Oh my gosh, I loved reading this! Such a sweet tribute your heritage. Please please please post pics of your darling Eamon in a bow tie. Your kids are too cute.

  3. Such an interesting and rich post!

  4. Happy St. Patrick's Day, Erin!!! This is such a wonderful post! Looove that pic of your grandparents:) I'm Irish and German too! My mother-in-law came here from Malahide (a little north of Dublin) when she was in her early 20s and still has a bit of an accent when she says some words...like knickers:) OMG, your kids are so cute! (I would love to see pics of your son in a bow tie too.) I think your grandfather would definitely be proud of you and them!!

    Thank you so much for your help with Maura's eating habits. I'm glad to know that at least its not my kid! Major breakthrough the last two days though...I discovered she likes cucumbers!! (at least so far) I'm going to make a conscious effort to have Paul and I eat dinner with her a couple of times a week and hope that helps (new recipes too). Going to also try out a booster seat. She is such a good kid otherwise that I feel bad harping on this one thing but I want to make sure I'm doing a good job as a mom:)

  5. What a great story!! Thanks for sharing and happy St. Pats!! :)

  6. This is simply grand ! how wonderful that you even have that treasure trove of memories...what is it with the Irish ? My mother's family was the same way...left and never looked back - never talked about it either.
    Your grandmother looks so like my Grandma McCreedy i could cry - i think i will ! i loved her madly and think of her all the time too - especially when my sister and i are sewing together - we have flashes of our Irish great aunts on the other side laughing at us "that's why we left the Old Country, you silly girls !!!"
    I know so many of our ancesters left Ireland in sadness - but, yes - they would be so proud of the children that carry their heritage here.
    (my Pop ALWAYS wore a bow tie! ) you go Eamon !

    1. Thank you and thanks for the tears, Mrs. B! Happy tears. I was cracking up about what your great aunts would be saying. So funny.

      See you soon and Happy St. Patrick's Day!


  7. oh....he sounds like a very cool man! I think I would have totally loved him, grumpy and all, too. :)