Growing up in a Donegal emigrant household in the New York Metropolitan area shaped my life profoundly. From the beauty of the Gaelic language spoken in our sitting room to the wild yarns spun around the kitchen table to impromptu trad seisiuns and step dancing at parties, our rich cultural heritage permeated every aspect of our family life.
I'm saddened that my seven-year-old daughter, Brídín, has missed out on these experiences. She was born and reared in Tennessee, and although I do my best to keep our traditions alive, it’s a formidable challenge in a region that boasts no visible, cohesive Irish immigrant community. Most connections with Ireland are very distant ones for our Memphis neighbors. For Bridie, as she's known, the connection is so close, yet so far away.
Bridie never had the opportunity to meet her grandparents. My father, whose mother came from the tiny village of Ranafast in the West Donegal Gaeltacht, and whose father was a native of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, died when I was 11. My mother Bríd, a Gweedore native for whom Bridie is named, lost her battle to cancer when I was in college. The harsh realities of mortality, geography and financial stresses have served as obstacles in my quest to keep my daughter tangibly connected to her heritage. I can’t tell you how often I daydream of showing her the Wild West of Ireland, which holds more pieces of my heart than any place on Earth.
I want Bridie to meet her great aunts and uncles and cousins for the first time. I want her to smell turf fire, chase rainbows, and feel the Western sunlight tickling her small freckled face. I want her to see the crossroads where the young once danced and the hills from which the bonfires that burn each Oiche Eoin serve as beacons of our Celtic heritage. I want to her to know the joy of spotting seals basking on rocks and dolphins circling salty bottomed boats that ebb and flow in the cool waves of a fresh Atlantic dawn.
And, if it so happens to be the right time of year for it, I want her to hear the call of the cuckoo bird, the harbinger of summer in Ireland, whose cuckoo-cuckoo unveils the joy and serenity that accompany balmy Irish days that end with pink sunsets followed by starry night skies. An Cuach flies each year from Africa to nest in the Wild West of Ireland. Now it’s time for Bridie and I to do the same -- to go home to roost, if only for a short time. There’s no doubt that journey will leave an indelibly rich imprint on her young heart.
(On a lighter note, I want to her to hear people properly pronouncing her name and mine, a true anomaly in the Southern United States. I also want her to know that her mother is not the only weirdo who eats beans for breakfast and refers to dish soap as “Fairy Liquid.” And I’ll be sure she writes a report upon her return…perhaps the Wild Geese’s first blog post from a child. Thank you for your consideration. Go raibh míle maith agaibh).
(Photo: Bríd and Brídín)
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