I have a deep affinity for all things Irish. This enduring fascination with Irish culture was a predetermined eventuality put in place long before I was born. Seven of my eight great-grandparents emigrated from the Emerald Isle to the United States; the remaining eighth branch of the family, my patrilineal Golden ancestors, also came from Ireland, albeit several generations earlier in the 1840s during an Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger). Thus, I grew up in a home in which we observed many Irish traditions and beliefs combined with the influence of several generations spent in the greater New York City area. In short, I come from a distinctly Irish-American household. I was also fortunate enough to know two of my Irish great-grandmothers in my youth, one of whom survived the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 that left her an orphan and ultimately forced her emigration to the United States. My immediate family lived in close proximity to Grandma O’Brien; we visited her frequently and spent every New Year’s Eve with her until she passed, at which point I was well into my teenage years. The stories that she told me about her home, coupled with the stories passed down through the generations about Ireland, left an indelible mark. I was in love with the land well before I even visited for the first time in 1998, and that first visit along with subsequent journeys deepened my affection for all things Hibernian.
In our first two months here, my wife Megan and I have immersed ourselves in different aspects of Irish culture. We have taken Irish language courses, Irish dancing lessons, Irish history courses, and an Irish literature course. We have attended several GAA matches in both hurling and Gaelic football. We have spent our weekends exploring the Irish countryside and attending Irish storytelling festivals. Yet by far my favorite experiences have been those spent connecting with the relatives I have here in Ireland. Several weeks ago, we attended my third cousin’s baptism. We were treated to such a warm and celebrated welcome you might have thought we were returning home after years abroad, not meeting distant relations for the first time. I now receive biweekly phone calls from the cousins I connected with to invite us to even more family gatherings.
My wife and I married shortly before we left the US for Ireland, so this is the first home that we have shared. It seems fitting that we are embarking on this lifelong journey together in the same place that so many of our ancestors also began their own journeys into uncharted territory. I knew that the circumstances that enabled me to receive the Mitchell Scholarship and participate in this joyous reunion were in their own way victories over the poverty, disease, and famine that forced my family out of Ireland. And there, together with my wife and many cousins at that baptism in Tipperary, I felt at home.
Sláinte agus saol agaibh!