When I was small, there were lovely books with the names of colors: The Green Fairy Book and the Red Fairy Book and others, which I devoured. In them, I read of a place called Ireland, where the children always seemed to laugh and sing and dance, and the fiddles were magic, and even money appeared and disappeared as if it had a will of its own. When I was twelve, I did a research project on Ireland for school. What I remember most about this project was the colors found in the pictures I collected: green fields stretching to the horizon, bright red doors on buildings of grey stone, children dancing in dresses of brilliant green, stretches of grey stone in a field with splashes of red flowers growing, it would seem, from the very stone. Everything was red and green, vivid as life.
When I was older, I did some research about the Irish immigrants who came to Prince Edward Island, Canada, where I live, in the early part of the nineteenth century. Their stories were those of people fleeing from tragedy. Back home in Ireland, famine and disease was decimating the countryside. They came to Canada looking for hope, for a future, and they found a land where, at first, they could not vote or hold public office. In some places, they were persecuted for their Catholic religion. And yet, they brought such color! I speak here not just of the vibrant red of Irish hair or the vivid blue of Irish eyes; no, I speak of the individuality, the courage, the laughter, the songs. They brought with them the habit of defying the grayness of existence and splashing life across it in great, colorful strokes. The Irish were a people you could not keep down.
A few years later still, I became intrigued by Celtic Christianity. The novels of Peter Tremayne made the Ireland of the sixth century alive and exciting, while arousing my curiosity about this form of Christianity that seems to have had noticeable differences to the denominational forms I knew. As I read about this, I found great beauty in the prayers of Saint Patrick, the legends of Saint Brigid, the stories about St. Brendan’s courageous ventures across the ocean. I learned about the equality of gender held in Irish law and in Celtic Christianity, and how, while that was altered to some extent by the Catholic Church, Irish men still look for strong, intelligent women, and the culture holds them in high regard.
I began to dabble a little in Irish music. The singing groups, Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder, became favorites. I began to watch Irish dancing on YouTube. I began to look for novels with an Irish element in them, such as J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series, where the protagonist’s delightful husband never speaks without “a ghost of Ireland in his voice”. As mystery novels are my preferred genre, I rejoiced in Andrew Greeley’s books, all Irish in flavor, as he was a descendant of Irish immigrants to the United States of America. Many of his books featured a psychic Irish singer as the lead detective. Cora Harrison wrote books about a woman who was a judge in rural Ireland in the sixteenth century. All these and more added little chips of color to the mosaic growing in my mind, called “Ireland.”
Then, to my delight, I discovered that I might have a drop of Irish blood in my veins. A distant ancestor of my mother was one of the “Ulster Irish”. Apparently, a member of his family, the Roses of Scotland, moved to Ireland. He and his descendants stayed there for about two hundred years, which is surely time enough to intermarry with the local population and become truly Irish. Then, when much of Ireland fell on hard times, they went back to Scotland before coming to North America. Did this explain my mother’s red hair and green eyes? Her quickness to both laughter and tears? Her love of music? Did it explain my own fascination with the Emerald Isle? In the map of my mind, one section shines with brilliant colors, even in the rain: Ireland is the color of life.
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Photo: Alison Crummy