There was no need for elaborate introduction or preliminary invitations; no fanfare. My grandfather would reach for his banjo sitting by the fireplace, and merely pluck a few strings. Without saying a word, my uncle would go to the back of the house and retrieve his fiddle, while his brother grasped a guitar by the neck.
Within minutes, the lilt of Irish music and laughter would fill the night air, and neighbors would gather on the front porch as grandpa sang ballads which had been handed down through the generations.
As a child, I merely enjoyed the closeness of relatives, friends and neighbors while they clapped and danced to the robust rhythm of those ballads. Later, as a teenager, the rebellious and vigorous spirit of that music appealed to my own desire for change. The melancholy sound of such tunes as "Danny Boy" represented a patriotic desire to fight for the rebel cause, but I missed the message of a father's love for his son. Sadly, I paid little attention to the philosophical message or poetic nature of the lyrics.
Now, thinking back on those years, I realize that the music also recorded Irish history and the subdued philosophy of a people bearing the burdens of life with dignity. Within my grandfather's beloved tunes lay hidden an entire way of life; a cultural heritage that had evolved through the suffering and survival of a remarkable people. And those elements were as much a part of my inheritance as my first name or the curl in my hair - it was an intrinsic part of being Irish.
Luminaries such as W.B. Yeats and James Joyce, while creating masterpieces, were only translating the mystical and ecstatic Irish outlook on life. Day by day and hour by hour the Irish, despite a history teeming with unrest and turmoil, have found a way of deriving joy from the simplest pleasures of life. Learning to find pleasure in strife, peace in war, and laughter in the face of adversity the Irish weaved a national character which has been recognized in literature, film, and song the world over - especially in their adopted homeland of America.
The one element which seems to exist in every Irish American is a serene contemplation of life and its many lessons. The true definition of a poet is the ability to glean a life-encompassing meaning from the simplest and most minute events, to derive a philosophy for living from the sum total of our problems and pleasures.
That ability seems to be the hallmark of Irish-American character, and has led to a viewpoint which makes the Irish-American so remarkable. It is one that allows sight of inspiring lessons in the most adverse events, and hope in the face of despair. It is a view of life that allows one to see comedy even when faced with tragedy.
In short, it is a philosophy which allows the Irish-American to hold the past without being overwhelmed by it, to find joy in the present, and to look forward to the future with hope. It is a viewpoint of life summed up best by that immortal Irish-American heroine Scarlett O'Hara: "After all, tomorrow is another day!"
Coming in the early spring, St. Patrick's Day is the perfect chance to survey our past and place it in the proper perspective. Coinciding with the advent of sunny days, fresh foliage and breezy nights, the holiday represents a new opportunity to enjoy life; a refreshing of our mental state so that we, like Scarlett, can see that tomorrow is the gateway leading to the fresh new garden of our lives. That thought places new meaning on the phrase "Wearing of the Green," and brings a new realization.
It occurs to me that with no more fanfare than my grandfather's unannounced concerts, neighbors of every race, ethnic background and religion will gather in the streets of Augusta, Savannah and Atlanta to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. They will wear the green and enjoy the music, food and fanfare of the day not so much to show their Irish as to demonstrate the joy of living. And it makes me want to shout "Erin Go Braugh" from my green rooftop. So, wear the green of the Irish and:
"May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand."
- Old Irish Blessing
Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.