We love our Irish Yanks - admiration and respect for emigrants
There has been a lot of discussion around the place recently on the subject of what the Irish in Ireland think about Irish Americans, and I've read some strong views being expressed on both flanks of the debate and on both shores of the Atlantic.
We keep hearing that there are something like 40 million Americans with Irish blood in them. That, for sure, is an impressive tally to have been contributed to the New World by such a small island as ourselves.
We, and you too, have been both busy and fertile down all the long decades of emigration. The modern fact is that ye now outnumber us on a scale of about 10 to one, and that is mindboggling.
I feel that many of the opinions I've heard expressed thus far are wide of the real mark. Few of them reflect the deep clan respect which the overwhelming majority of the stay at home Irish have for their families and friends in the United States especially.
There is a deep, strong, warm bond there, and there always has been throughout my lifetime. We admire and respect what our emigrants achieved down the years despite all the odds in a tougher and more competitive society than the one they had to leave behind.
My memory goes back to the fifties as an Ulster child, and I can say that the arrival home of the summertime "Yanks" was always an occasion of celebration and pride among not just the extended clan, but also the entire local community.
We never said "Irish Americans" as a matter of interest. The incoming flank of the family were always affectionately known as Yanks.
That was not connected at all to the Civil War labels or to the resident state of our relatives. They were simply Yanks, and we were delighted to welcome them home with open arms.
The modern homecomings are slightly different in that it is relatively easy to fly home quite frequently, and even for us to visit quite often. The families are in closer communication all the time in the majority of cases.
But when I was a child the older folk could tell so many tales of Johnny and Mary leaving Cobh or Belfast in their teens and never ever being able to return. It was not easy then.
For that very reason it was an occasion for celebration when the American clansmen and women did make it home for what was invariably a rattling good party.
I've celebrated with homecoming Yanks in all four provinces at this stage of my life. A significant factor in the warmth of the Cead Mile Failte actually goes back to that bloody Famine.
Think about it. The heaviest waves of emigration came from the impoverished communities on the poorest lands, many of these located in the rugged counties along the west coast from Donegal all the way down to Kerry and West Cork.
In these lands the sense of community was always stronger than in many other areas. The people of the west are still very strongly bonded by a common pride in their family, community, parish and county.
When one of their own does well in life everybody is proud of them. They survived and thrived.
And my experience is that they are as proud of their own Yanks as they are of the clansman who started up some successful project in the nearest town. Maybe even more proud because the initial emigrants had to fight such a tough battle against deep-rooted prejudices and disadvantages.
All those legendary American letters both ways across the sea have left a deep knowledge of what Johnny and Mary had to survive in the homeland folklore.
There is also a poignant undercurrent of folklore about those who did not get the breaks and fell by the wayside. There are countrymen still today who never visited the U.S., but who know neighbors, maybe even family members who perished, as they say, in that place called Hell's Kitchen
So, in a single sentence, our Yanks, all Yanks, are highly regarded when they come back home to us.
We are proud of you. Very proud.
Ye are different from us in many ways. I think ye are often surprised that we have changed a lot too, as has our society, but fundamentally we are equal members of the one big zany family, and it is good to get together again.
One reality about the homecomings used hurt me when I was young, but thankfully it has disappeared now. It was a profound enough reality back then.
When Johnny emigrated, for example, a part of the family background was that his older brother Seamus inherited the farm. Back then the farm normally went to the oldest son as long as he was interested. So Johnny emigrated and Seamus worked the land.
Normally in the west that land was not rich, and the manual work was harder than hard all day and every day. The contrast between Johnny, on his return home, and Seamus was often exceptionally cruel.
Seamus might have been only a couple of years the senior, but he so often looked old enough and stiff enough to be Johnny's father. Seamus, whatever he did in the states, always seemed to look tanned and fit, light on his nimble feet, brightly and boldly dressed.
The contrast was often a savage reflection on the different lifestyles, maybe the drier climate, probably a higher standard of living. Thankfully you don't see that anymore. I'm glad about that above all.
There is something bone-deep in about all of us, and that is the special warm feeling you experience in your chest when you are truly in the midst of a gathering of your own flesh and blood.
I can assure those of you who have not yet had that experience in Ireland that it is still strongly here.
It is worth getting the taste of it.
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”