I Used to Be Irish

Yes, that’s what I said. I used to be Irish. And what with St. Patrick’s day just around the corner, I’m sort of missing my Irish heritage. I’m sad that I won’t be able to partake this year the way I did last…as a person with legitimate Irish blood in their veins.

Geneology is sort of a hobby on my dad’s side of the family. This is in part because they tend to live to be so old. That sets up a situation in which it’s easy to access information about previous generations…you just ask them! Or ask them about their parents. I’m not suggesting that everyone should value their ancestry. I have a friend who thinks this is ridiculous. But in my particular situation, it’s come to be a way in which I identify myself. Something I use to feel at home and connected in my world.

My father is Italian and English. On his side of the family I’m a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, among other well-known writers. Since I write for a living, I love feeling somehow connected to the other writers in my past. (Please note that I said I do it for a living–not that I’m good at it. I don’t want this assertion to be any indication of the quality you can expect from this boring story.)

My mother’s adoptive parents were told that she was Irish and Italian, just like them. She was adopted in 1946 from a Catholic Social Services organization, which told her new parents that she was the product of a teenaged, “illegitimate birth.” Her paperwork indicated that her name prior to adoption was Mary Margaret McCarthy.

So, every year on St. Patrick’s day, I would go out and celebrate this part of my geneology. I wear a Claddaugh in honor of my mother’s lost heritage. And in the context of a situation such as my family’s I felt that this hurt her. I knew from her own admission that having no “blood relatives” except my sister and me was something she thought about often and felt uncomfortable over–like she was unmoored. I suppose if she’d married into a family that didn’t have such a long, traceable history, it might never have come up. But it did.

We talked about doing a search now and then and I encouraged her to do so. Finally, on last St. Patrick’s day, I called her over this issue. I told her I thought 54 years was long enough to wait, and that if she wanted to do a search, I’d do all the legwork and fork out all the cash. She became excited, grateful, and was ready to set aside the risks and go forward.

I tracked down her place of birth, which oddly, turned out to be right across the street from where I was living at the time. Posing as her, I found out that I could get fairly simple access to a file of non-identifying information for Mary Margaret. I sent them some money and they looked up the McCarthy birth according to the information I was able to give them.

About three months later, my mom called me with her file in her hand. She was going BONKERS.

First of all, she found out she was NOT the product of a teenaged mother, but a 32-year-old divorced woman.

She found out she had two half-brothers who would likely still be alive today.

And the real show stopper in her case: McCarthy she ain’t.

“Oy Vey,” she said to me…

“We’re Jewish!”

Turns out her biological family consists of Swedes and Polish Jews.

It’s not every day you go to bed Irish and wake up Jewish. And even though similar things happen more than you think, there aren’t a lot of resources for someone who realizes they’re Jewish at 54 years old. Or 30 years old. I have no interest in converting (or following ANY religion for that matter). But as someone who identifies myself by my heritage, I’ve gotta say: This is WEIRD. It’s STILL weird many months after the realization.

Anyone else have a similar experience? Anyone have to say anything about the organization who lied to my mother and her family and hid and falsified her birth records so that she doesn’t even know her own birth date now? (Hmm…maybe that last is better discussed in The Pit.) Or perhaps this is only fascinating to me…I certainly won’t be shocked to find THAT out.


May I be the first to say Mazel Tov!

::ducks and runs::
::slinks back wearing a mask… ;j::

Who says you can’t still be irish? It was a part of your growing up, so why not? I’m sure your mom doesn’t think any less of her adoptive parents for not being her biological parents, so why not embrace BOTH heritages?

Besides, you don’t have to be Jewish to be jewish. I have jewish ancestory, but I am a christian. AND I celebrate Hanukah. I don’t say the prayer, but I light the candles. Kinda like athiests celebrating christmas.

I say be both. Be just that much more special! :slight_smile:

… Yeah, I think it was wrong of the adoption agency to hide your heritage from you. In fact, I think… well, you’re right, that would be better suited in the pit :mad:

My sentiments exactly. I just have MORE history to latch onto now than I did before. I very much consider this a gain and not a loss. Kinda neat, huh?

Now, go buy a good bagel, some crream cheese, and some lox. Assemble, eat, enjoy, and you will officaly be jewish! oh, and say Oy alot… ;j

I had a friend who thought his birthday was June 27, but later found out it was July 27.

He was born in Spain, in a rather rural area. When he was old enough to move away, he got a copy of his birth certificate to get a passport. On it, it said July 27 was his birthday. He complained, saying that it was wrong. Whoever he complianed to found more evidence that it was right. So he was a Leo, not Cancer.

He asked his mother, who was illiterate, why she’d told him it was June 27. “June, July… All I remember was that it was hot.”

I had to bust my ass for two-plus years in Indian affairs before my father’s side of the family sheepishly revealed that I have a half-pint of American Indian running through me.

Apparently it wasn’t such a cool thing to be Indian back in the day, especially since those folks are all such big John Wayne fans.

That is SO not right. What a crock!

I’m glad you tracked down the real you. :slight_smile:

Woke up Jewish huh? Pretty cool :slight_smile: Look at the bright side… now you can make a really good family cookbook! Not very many Great Chef’s of Ireland :smiley: For the most part, I’m Irish/Norwegian. The Irish side spent about 30 years trying to do their family tree. Turns out our family name was changed by each male at least once, and in one guy, my great great grandfather, 5 times, this custom ending with my father. The furthest back it can be traced ends with a guy in Ireland who married a fine Irish lass. That’s the most normal part. Things got way weird in the middle of all this mess, with the wars, records, etc… There’s a lot that we in our family will never truly know, but hey, that’s what makes us unique:)

BTW, I’ll make a standing offer to help ya out if you ever… um… want a little Irish in you, for St. Paddy’s Day… or any other day :smiley:

¡Oi! How very odd. ;j
Well, now you can become an accoutant, hang out at the Deli and tell your (future) sons about the happy little operation they will have!


It’s an interesting story. I’m tired, so this may be one long tangent, but…

[ul] [li]I know where you’re coming from with this heritage thing. It’s an oddly American phenomeon, as I’m sure our Euro/Aussie Dopers will attest to. But as someone who hails from two VERY Irish families, it’s hard for me to imagine my family without that Irishness.[/li]* My mother’s father was an Irish alcoholic, so my grandmother divorced him. (that’s the short story.) She remarried a man named Walter when my mom was about 10. Walter was Jewish. Therefore, my mother identifies herself as Jewish. Specifically, “culturally Jewish.” This means she swears in Yiddish, makes a damn fine potato lahka (sp?) and has always warned me thusly: “Don’t look up, or a bird will poop in your eye.” This is all the more amusing because my mother is the picture of Irishness. Round face, blue eyes, black hair, itty bitty nose.
*The oft-discussed SisterRiddles is technically HalfSisterRiddles, the love child. Her father was Jewish, so SR has MommaRiddles’ black hair, and her father’s brown eyes. In addition, she has more olive skin than YoungerSisterRiddles or I, as we are the result of my VERY Irish PoppaRiddles and MommaRiddles. (read: we’re pasty white.) Therefore, SR has always looked differently. The normal reaction when people find out we’re sisters is “Shut up!” We look absolutely nothing alike. However, we act quite a bit alike, enough so that while I may LOOK more like YoungerSisterRiddles, OlderSisterRiddles’ personality is more like mine.

  • All of this confusion has lead me to one conclusion: it doesn’t matter. I’m sure our buddies the Euro/Aussie Dopers will be pleased to inform us that it’s all a load of poop, that in actuality, we’re all just Americans. We can’t vote correctly, we shoot each other too much, and we roll around naked in our green, monochromatic money.
    Sure, you’re not Irish. You’re not really Polish, either, because that’s not where you were raised. If you like the Irish culture, then wear a Calladaugh ring and raise a pint of Guiness to the old country. I consider myself Irish not because I feel that it defines ME, but because I feel it was a part of who my great-grandparents were, and then it became a part of who my grandparents became. And that is my way of remembering them. So maybe exporing your biological roots will help you with this transition.
  • Having said that, your mom’s story doesn’t surprise me at all. The Catholic church’s orphanages operated on a value system that, IMHO, can barely be considered Christian. I have no doubt that they doctored your mom’s records so she’d be more attractive to her eventual family. Feh. [/ul]

Hehe, I know a little bit about waking up Jewish. To make a long story short, My family wasn’t very big on communicating, and I guess the subject of family history never came up very often. Anyway when I was 20 I was running out of scholarship money, and decided to try one of those services that looks through all of those real bizarre specialized scholarships that people leave. One of the things they use to look is your grandmothers’ maiden names. It occured to me that I didn’t know my dad’s mom’s maiden name, so I called up my dad and asked what it was. My dad told me, and I said that it sounded Jewish. My dad laughed and told that she was.

This is a kind of stupid story that #sders might recognize, since I was mulling it over there last week.

My aunt recently mentioned to me, in passing, that she is sure that my grandmother baptized me. On the sly. In the kitchen sink. I was horrified. I’m 22, and have been to Catholic services approximately four times, and except for my grandfather’s funeral, they were all for personal interest reasons. I am most emphatically not a Catholic. I can’t really explain why this upsets me so much, since I’m sure it wouldn’t even be considered valid by the Catholic Church. But it’s one more reason I have decided to convert formally to Judaism.

Shalom, Slaìnthe, what’s the difference? :wink:

I know the Irish to be a giving people. No matter what you are, you may still consume ludicrous amounts of Guinness on St. Paddy’s day!

It must be weird, having to “change” your heritage at this stage in your life. Makes me glad I know all about mine. 15/16 Dutch, 1/16 German.

Well over in Ireland this Patricks Day is going to be a kinda downer as it’s been cancelled. It didn’t really bother me as I was planning on being away but now it looks like I’ll be here and the whole wkend festival has been cancelled due to the foot and mouth scare in this part of the world.

As to your story SexyWriter. Wow, what a bummer. Maybe I should look into my family history a bit more. I do love the bagels from the Jewish bakery up the road and live around the corner from the Jewish museum in Dublin, hhhmmmm.

LOL, my grandmother on my mother’s side of the family STILL won’t admit there’s Indian blood in the family, despite some old letters and pictures that seem to indicate two interracial marriages and the fact a few of them look pretty much like pure Indians (like my Mom).

[Finians rainbow]
You dont have to be Irish to be Irish…
[/finians rainbow]
Aw, Na be ag dálann. If you consideryourself Irish, then your Irish. Relax and Enjoy yourself on Paddy’s day. Or go out and get roaring drunk. both will work. :wink:

Wow, are you lucky to find out about your family.
All I know about mine is that both mom’s side of the family was based around what is now the Czech republic (likely a lot of Gypsy, too), and dad’s side from around Poland and Lithuania.
Most of the records were probably destroyed during WW2 and the Soviet take-over, and all the last names were changed at some point during emigration (pre-WW2).
And of course, neither family kept good records over here. Heck, for all I know, we could have been Jewish before the war and switched beliefs for safety.

In honor of you, I will have a Guinness and a bagel on St. Pat’s day.

Here here! [Raising me pint o’Guinness and taking a bite of me bagel] I’ve never taken my Claddaugh off, by the way. My mother gave it to me after a lengthy conversation we had about her lost biological roots, so it represents a great deal in my mind.

I’ve had a little too much caffeine this morning, so I’m sort of overly emotional and charged up (prett much a typical state for a Laura regardless of caffeine consumption).

I didn’t really think this was a BIG SERIOUS issue. I mean, it’s neat to me to find out I have a heritage so very far from how I was raised. I’m interested, curious, and…well…proud. It’s also a really big relief to simply KNOW, everyone understand? My mom would have been weeping tears of joy is she’d found out she was Armenian, or Hungarian. It didn’t truly matter that much what the outcome was. And I certainly wasn’t upset or pained to find out I “wasn’t what I thought I was.” I mean, I certainly still am ME!

But what I find interesting now is how touched I am by everyone’s responses! Thank you all for your related experiences, and DO keep them coming. This fascinates me for some odd, Laura-like reason. I guess it’s very common.

I agree with everyone who says in effect that you “are how you were raised culturally.” I certainly feel that I’ve GAINED another cultural outlet, not that I’m losing one. I don’t plan to truly give up my “Irishness.”

In fact, it’s kind of funny to note that my father’s mom is bilingual…Italian is her first language. And thus, I heavily identify myself as Italian. Even though it only comprises 1/4 of my “blood,” it comprises an enormous part of my CULTURE. Lots of people will identify with the fact that if you’ve got a small Italian portion of your family, they tend to take over EVERYTHING. :slight_smile:

I am trying to find resources on Jewish culture (as opposed to religion) and to do some things to identify with that. Partly for me, and partly for my mother. As I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to find such resourcees. I find this strange, since there are entire generations of people who were forced to convert from Judaism and thus, their ancestors end up finding out mid-way through life that they’re Jewish. I’ve read that there are tens of thousands of Spaniards in that position. You’d think there would be lots of stuff out there to read when this happens to you, but I can’t find anything.

Another amusing fact about this is that I think I might “look” Jewish. It’s interesting to note that I grew up on a FARM in central Illinois. I didn’t meet a Jewish person until I went away to college. I had no idea of the concept of Jewish culture, no inkling of the differences, the stereotypes. I wasn’t aware that there WAS such a thing as “looking Jewish.” Until I got to college and people started “mistaking” me for Jewish. My answer to them at the time was always, “No, I’m not Jewish, I’m Italian.” There are photos of me in my web site, which is linked in my profile. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Thank you all for your kind words and stories. They’re really terrific!


I thought you looked kind of Irish, with some inner european. Either way, I always thought you were very cute :slight_smile: