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Irish dancers at the Chicago Irish Festival.

Touring Irish America

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Irish dancers at the Chicago Irish Festival.

A good point, and here’s a suggestion for a family vacation or day out. Attend an Irish Festival and then visit the monuments to local Irish-American history that more and more communities are erecting. For example, Buffalo has a statue to Chauncey Olcott, who gave us “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “My Wild Irish Rose,” at his birthplace in a section of Buffalo where the street signs are in Irish. Maybe incorporate a more solemn moment at one of the many memorials to the Great Starvation across the country. I’ve been moved by these monuments in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Chicago and at the evocative Hillside Cottage that marks New York’s Great Hunger Memorial.

If you stay at one of the Festival-recommended hotels you’ll be almost guaranteed an after-hours seisun with the musicians staying there. All these Festivals are labors of love and depend on volunteers, who all seem to have a great time. Check out the websites and think of offering your help. I’m adding Kansas City, Dublin, Ohio and Fort Collins, Colorado to this summer’s itinerary. Hope I’ll see you  –  maybe we’ll meet at one of the Festival Masses where congregations sing and pray in Irish. During these joyous celebrations I thought of our ancestors who, during the penal days, risked death to gather at hidden Mass rocks and secret caves to practice a forbidden faith. How pleased they would be to see us gathered in grace and freedom!

Something happened at one of these masses that captures an insight that I can’t put into words. In the midst of a very informative homily on Celtic monasticism the priest misspoke and called Ireland “the island of saints and sinners” (instead of “and scholars”). After a moment of silence the congregation burst into laughter and then we applauded, a loud and long demonstration that I understood but can’t explain. Was it delight in the joke? Self-deprecation? The “giggling in church” syndrome? I’m not sure. But as I turned to my neighbor to share the good laugh, I thought of my young friend from Ireland. Yes, it is fun to be Irish in America!

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