Sitting at a table with my mother, aunts and cousins on the final night of my eldest cousin’s wedding this spring, the conversation had taken the inevitable turn to men – which qualities are good, which bad, which negligible and so on.
My maternal line is fierce, and the Buckley women are a force to be reckoned with. My grandmother is still as feisty and wise as ever, her three daughters are known (by my generation only) as “The Unholy Trinity,” and the four females on the third tier have been close like sisters since we were children, having all grown up on the same country road in Co. Kilkenny.
As we shared cross-generational stories of boyfriends, husbands and everything in between, we began to realize that there were some inescapable similarities among our choice of men.
My uncle – godfather, and father of the bride – had some months before remarked on how us four little women from Slieverue had all fallen for men from “The North.” Down, Monaghan, Fermanagh and a Belfast–Wicklow transplant.
“What is it about ye that ye can’t help yourselves around these fellas, eh?” he had joked in a terrible impression of a Northern Irish accent.
So, as we sat there telling tales about our Northern lads, the aunts began to chime in with additional similarities that reached far beyond accents and origins – all overseen by Nana Bridie who nodded along carefully as each man discussed presented qualities similar to her late Bill. She had set up the line quite well.
We are a loud, cackling, intimidating bunch of strong women. Alone, we can be pretty brutal, but put us all together and you expect to see a cauldron and a murder of ravens circling overhead. However, we soften when we talk about our Irish men.
“God, the patience he must have puttin’ up with me,” said one aunt, nodding towards her adoring husband as he led their two sleepy young boys down the corridor to bed.
However, maybe this is not just my family. Maybe this is not just me and my cousins subconsciously seeking men who can handle our tough exteriors and have the right amounts of kindness, patience and endurance to balance us out.
As I see more and more of my Irish friends here in New York City join me in the long-distance world, holding on to their relationships with Irish men at home, I wonder if there is something deeply engrained in us Irish that means our roots will always be tied together.
This is, of course, not to say that an Irish woman couldn’t possibly be happy with someone who wasn’t Irish, but the small circles in which I move seem to demonstrate an unwavering desire for men from home.
Is it homesickness? Is it because American guys are a little softer, more sensitive and more in touch with their emotions? Sometimes that can scare us tough gals to death or put us off completely.
We’re used to the more challenging male psyche – no offense to Irish guys, but sometimes it’s like drawing blood from a stone trying to get them to open up – which, in itself, can be annoyingly attractive.
Chatting to American men here, it seems there is a universal awareness of the high expectations of an Irish woman. We tend to have a low tolerance for games and silly flirtations, preferring brutal honesty with a charming touch of self-deprecation humor, which, unless you’re born with it, can be hard to perfect.
Last weekend, while at a social gathering with the usual group of friends who have almost entirely given up hope, we were approached by two men. They were tall, attractive and suited up.
The usual introductions took place with vague inquiry into what we all do “for a living” – a phrase that still makes me flinch with its allusions to adulthood – and an uncomfortable game-show environment began to develop where they were the hosts and we were the giggling idiots in the crowd shyly answering questions into a looming microphone.
“I’m a writer – not single,” I said, which was met with the usual groans of disapproval.
On the revelation that we were Irish, guy-on-the-left says, “Oh, I’m Irish too!”
All right, Chad, let’s see how Irish you are. His non-specific ancestor moved here five billion years ago and he had no idea which side it was on or where in Ireland he / she was from but hey, that still counts, right?
No, Chad. No. Why did he feel the need to do this?
Just be American. That is so much more attractive than making a semi-floundering attempt to attach yourself to Irish shores like a feeble little barnacle.
That night, they were out in force. Logan tried to tell us that both his parents were Irish and had moved to Florida 30 years ago. To be fair, Logan was 6’5” and looked like a Viking with a shock of red hair and freckled arms, but he was holding a tumbler of Jack Daniels with a distinctly Southern drawl and was called Logan.
Tip for Logan. You are from Florida – why not tell us about Florida and what’s great about being from there? We’ve all been in Ireland for the past 23 years, we know all about it.
Eventually, one of the gaggle of girls ended up smooching an Irish guy that had been living here for a few years, and all the others remained smooch-less.
Perhaps one of the most attractive things about Irish men is that they don’t pretend to be anything else. They don’t have to.
Yes, Irish women are inherently attracted to Irish men – who isn’t attracted to their own? – but there’s no reason for us not to sway.
The ideal scenario is that an Irish American guy will casually point out his heritage before very quickly moving on, mentioning at as a background element of common ground rather than presenting it as a point to impress us.
We grew up with Irish guys, we’re related to Irish guys, we were conceived by Irish guys.
Having grown up here, you can bring something new to the table. So bring that instead.