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  I am not, technically, Irish.  Nor am I Catholic, and saints’ days don’t have much significance for me in the traditional way. 

  But at least some of my ancestors came to America the hard way, on ships with sails, in the mid-18th century.   They landed in Philadelphia and worked their way south down the long valleys, looking for land they could make their own.  They found it in Southwest Virginia, and they settled.  Got married – to Scots and Germans and English and other Irish – and had children and grandchildren.

 At least one branch of the family was casual about religion in Ireland, changing from Catholic to Protestant and back, depending on the political situation.  Another branch was Protestant before they left Ireland.  But all of them seemed to have gone whole-hog Protestant in Virginia.

 I don’t have a single Catholic relative.  And we’re all what I like to call “standard Colonial mix,” that mid-Atlantic blend of Scots and Irish and English and German, with a bit of Welsh and Dutch thrown in.  That’s us: Daughertys and Powerses and Strawns, most of us fair and freckled and blue-eyed, or Black Irish dark.

 They came here for many reasons, according to family lore and genealogical research: Overcrowding.  Too many sons, not enough land.  Religious oppression.  Having lost their land to an English lord.  Enterprising spirits.  Escaping judicial punishment.  Simple poverty.  And they all wound up here, in the little corner of Virginia that’s as hilly as Ireland, and nearly as green.  It must have seemed like a little piece of home to them.

 I raise a glass to them, on the day people are proud to be Irish.  Slainte! 

Photo courtesy of pdphoto.org.

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