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The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day each March 17 gives each of us a little glimpse into Irish culture.
You might hear some classic Irish music – a distinctive and lively blend of fiddles, harps, flutes, and horns. You’re sure to notice displays of Irish-themed merchandise online and at local shops. Many of these items prominently feature the shamrock (link to four leaf clover piece), the bright green clover that has come to symbolize Ireland.
However, with the annual St. Patrick’s Day parades canceled and many pubs closed due to the pandemic, our options to celebrate the festive holiday are limited. For some of the nearly 32 million Americans who report having full or partial Irish heritage, the recent shutdowns have inspired them to find new ways to honor their ancestry.
From tracing your roots to planting a tree in honor of your Irish heritage, here are unique ways you can honor your Irish ancestry throughout the month of March.
Tracing your family tree
Maybe you are fortunate enough to have heard the stories of your Irish ancestors directly from family members. However, even interviewing your grandparents can take you only so far when it comes to building your family tree. If you’ve hit some dead ends in your research, you may want to take advantage of the genealogy and family tree building tools and services you can find online.
Jessica Taylor, president of Legacy Tree Genealogists, tells us that the pandemic created an unusual past year for her business. “Overall, we have found that even more people than usual have wanted our help in tracing their roots,” she says. “Perhaps the extra time spent at home has inspired many to dust off their old family history books and get curious about what else they could discover about their family origins.”
Over the past 16 years, Legacy Tree has traced hundreds of Irish family trees, according to Jessica. However, the research can be difficult due to a 1922 fire in the Public Records Office of Ireland that destroyed many genealogical records.
“Because of this, Irish research takes determination and creativity,” Jessica explains. “Thankfully, not all records were destroyed, and we’ve found Irish research success through digging into records such as directories, cemetery registers, and workhouse records.”
“We are also finding that DNA testing can serve as an important tool,” she says. “We were recently able to solve an Irish ‘brick wall’ using genetic genealogy.”
The Irish have an enormous attraction to their homeplace — to the very soil where they come from.
Encouraging Americans with Irish ancestry to treat every discovery as a big win, Jessica points out that discovering an exact location of your family’s origin in Ireland can be challenging. “If you have the ‘luck of the Irish,’ your ancestor’s Irish county may have been included on a tombstone or death certificate, or perhaps on a Catholic marriage record here in the U.S.” she says.
Honoring your loved ones
Another way to honor your Irish roots is by participating in the Irish Heritage Tree program. Created by IrishCentral and the Tree Council of Ireland, the program offers you the opportunity to honor a loved one by dedicating the planting of a native tree in Ireland in their name.
“The idea was born out of the lack of connection between people and their roots during the pandemic,” says Toby McCoy, chief tree officer of IrishCentral. “The links between Ireland and the diaspora were cut off, and we realized that we needed to act together and do something different to keep them alive.”
Toby explains that the new program offers a tangible connection to Irish heritage as well as a positive environmental impact.
“The Irish have an enormous attraction to their homeplace — to the very soil where they come from,” says Niall O’Dowd, founder of IrishCentral and Irish Heritage Tree. “Planting trees is a statement of belonging to that soil and to the generations past who tilled it.”
Irish Heritage Tree plans to plant 5,000 trees this spring at a historic farm located in the Golden Vale of Ireland in Tipperary. Several ancient ring forms are still visible on the farm, and St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, allegedly spent time at the nearby Fadaghta River.
The tree-planting project has touched a chord with Irish-Americans, according to Niall. “At a time when they cannot travel here, it connects them to what Abraham Lincoln called the ‘mystic chords of memory,’ and to maintaining that sacred link back to the land of their forebears,” he says.
You may dedicate a tree to honor any holiday or occasion, including a birth, an anniversary, or the passing away of a loved one. You will receive an Irish Heritage Tree certificate to mark the event. Toby says the organization’s goal is to plant 100,000 trees in 2021.
Virtual visits to the Emerald Isle
Many people of Irish descent enjoy visiting Ireland, nicknamed the Emerald Isle, to explore their roots in person. Since travel is limited now, here are some virtual ways to learn more about Irish culture.
Several U.S. cities have Irish heritage museums with virtual exhibits and events you can visit from home. Here are a few options to consider:
The Irish Heritage Museum in Albany, N.Y.
The Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago
The Irish Cultural Centre of New England