The Luck of the Irish  

Nancy Bryans, Writer, Production Assistant

Every year on St. Patrick’s Day when I was a child, my mother served shamrock-shaped biscuits at breakfast and shamrock-shaped green-sprinkled sugar cookies for dinner. Green paper cutout shamrocks decorated our table centerpiece. Outsiders might have guessed we were of Irish descent. My mother claimed her family was 100 percent English. My father and grandfather did not know of any Irish family members and neither did my grandmother who proudly boasted of her Scottish ancestors. Despite having no known Irish roots, our family continued to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Time tumbled off the calendar and years later I planned a trip to Scotland and Ireland.  With accommodation arrangements secured in advance, my husband and I boarded an airplane to meet my Scottish relatives and to search for his Irish ancestors. Our arrival in Glasgow, Scotland, presented a difficulty; driving on the “wrong” side of the road. My husband took the wheel. Within minutes he cringed as a huge “lorry” headed straight toward us. He overcorrected steering and ran up on the sidewalk. Sensing his frustration, I offered to drive. We encountered a two-lane roundabout, the first I had ever seen. I drove around and around the roundabout several times before we could discern which lane, then exit, to take.

We finally arrived in Stirling, toured the historic area and collapsed in bed. Upon leaving Stirling, I terrified my husband by sideswiping a tree or something, knocking the passenger mirror askew, followed by several other bumps and scrapes. At lunchtime, we surveyed our “demolition derby” car.

Undaunted, I headed north to meet my relatives, arriving in time for dinner and a warm welcome, after carefully parking the car to conceal its mishaps. We spent several days, discovering my Scottish roots, meeting cousins and enjoying a private tour of “our” ancient castle, now a tourist attraction, and numerous cultural, historical and ancient ruins. We sent postcards home, but my wary husband checked every post office for my Wanted Poster. Armed with a wealth of family history, we flew to Ireland, where we repeated the cultural, historical and ruins experience, finally arriving at the town where my husband’s ancestors once resided.

Along the way, we experienced Scotland’s glens, moors, crags and ragged coastlines, and in Ireland, lush St. Patrick hued green grass. We read and heard various stories about St. Patrick and Irish traditions associated with the saint. Irish Catholics attend Mass on St. Patrick’s Day and do not debauch themselves in green beer as in the USA. In County Mayo, each July pilgrims climb 2,507-foot Croagh Patrick nicknamed “the Reek” in honor of St. Patrick who in 441 AD fasted for 40 days on its peak. Locals told us Croagh Patrick’s spiritual influence continues as penitents walk or crawl to its summit to atone for their sins.

In County Mayo, we approached the town where my husband’s 16-year-old ancestor departed for Canada during the Irish famine, escaping as a stowaway aboard ship. We visited the heritage center and located the names of his ancestors, names repeated over the generations in America. That afternoon while my husband checked post office Wanted Posters, I stood in the village square, watching young red-haired children exit their school bus. I thought I was seeing my youthful reflection; those Irish children looked exactly like my sister and me.

Then a young American man asked me for directions, thinking I was the mother of one of the school children. Upon returning home, I researched my lineage for an Irish connection, and to my mother’s dismay, her family blessed me with the luck of the Irish.