The Irish are a proud people, who for the majority scorn British rule over the Northern areas. Controversial British rule over the Northern region of the island gave birth to the Irish Republican Army, or IRA for short. The IRA is and was a group of Irishmen who strongly believe that the whole of Ireland should be its own sovereign state that did not have to answer to the United Kingdom. The British and IRA have battled for power for the majority of the 20th century, finally slowing down in the late 1990’s. Of course, there were times of relative peace on the island, but when one group began to prod at the other, all hell would break loose.
My Grandfather was one of four children, and was born on the Scales family farm of County Claire. For years the Scales family rose cattle and grew assorted vegetables on our land, providing the surrounding areas with meat and produce. My grandfather, Thomas Scales, decided to leave the country in the late 1950’s, in search of peace and a chance at a better life in the United States. Him and my Grandmother, who hails from Cork, flew out from the Cork airport and arrived in New York City, where my grandfather had already arranged a job for himself as a janitor at a High School. While my Grandfather stayed in New York, My grandmother began to work with a catering company, which lead her to travel all through out the Northeast. She gathered all her savings and bought herself a moped, which she would use to travel around the tri-state area.
My Grandparents made a huge decision at such an early stage of their lives that it seems unfathomable. I could never imagine at the age of 22 deciding to move to a foreign country from my humble farm, without any guarantee of success or work; a true reflection of the reputation of the United States as “the land of opportunity”. The United States has a thriving Irish-American population that has influenced New York culture since the birth of our country. And although my Grandparents left Ireland, Ireland never really left them.
My grandparents settled in the Bronx, NY, where plenty of Irish American immigrants are known to settle down. My Father and his siblings grew up in a heavily Irish populated area, opening up all sorts of cultural doors. My Aunt Kathy Irish step-danced for the majority of her early life, and travelled all across the East coast performing with her crew. My Father learned to play the bagpipes and played in the local Irish football league. He would later become the goalie for the U20 All-state Irish football team, and travelled to Ireland with his team to play in a friendly-national tournament. My Grandparents, Father, Aunt and Uncle travelled to Ireland every summer the day school ended, and returned only a day before classes were set to start. These trips lead my Father to grow a true love and affinity to Ireland and its culture.
Irish culture has also had quite a profound affect on my life as well. Ever since I can remember, my Dad has subscribed to the WFUV Irish Sundays and donates money to the radio station regularly. Every Sunday, The radio in the house would blast Irish Folk music. I’ve awoken plenty of times early Sunday Morning to the sharp whistle of a brass flute or the throaty drone of a bagpipe. My dad is severely tone deaf, but that would never stop him from belting out the lyrics to all his favorite Irish standards, such as “On Raglan road”, or “Dirty Old Town”. Sometimes, my dad would prepare Irish breakfast on Sunday morning, cooking up pigs blood, sausage, and of course, potatoes. This was accompanied by Barry’s tea, a tea strong and hearty enough for every healthy Irishmen.
Every year, my extended family and mine march in the famous New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Each year we switch between marching with county Claire and Cork, while my father marches with the Fire Department, bearing the crest of the 311 firefighters who gave their lives on 9/11. After marching we crowd into my grandmother’s small apartment in Yonkers, where we eat roast beef and cabbage and take turns picking sing-a-longs. It’s at these gatherings I learned to play the spoons from my uncle, who is particularly talented at the makeshift instrument.
In the 8th grade, I finally made the trip to Ireland with my Soccer team to play in a friendly tournament against some of Ireland’s best teams. Although we lost to the majority of these extremely talented teams, it was still a great experience that I will never forget. After a week of soccer playing and touring with my team, my family and I spent another week visiting family. Late into the trip, we visited my Great Uncle, who had taken over the Scales family farm since my Grandfather left. The house had 3 rooms, one bedroom for my Great Aunt and Uncle, another for my second cousins, and a large kitchen that took up the majority of the space. It was such a shock to see how humble my grandfather’s beginnings were, and how he had came so far from that day he departed from Cork airport. Ever since that day, I’ve held a newfound respect for my grandfather, breaking from his origins to search for newfound opportunities in the free world. My grandfather was not only a proud Irishman, but a proud American as well. I imagine him now with his flat cap and shillelagh in hand, smoking a parliament as he sat and watched the local Irish football teams play in Gaelic Park, Kingsbridge, the Bronx. A true Irish-American, with passion in his heart and wit in his manners.