Megans Year: An Irish Travelers Story (Tales of the World)

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The right Annie, the year-old who left from Cobh, never went west. The tenement home she arrived to on her first trip, her entire family sharing a couple of rooms in a noisy, overcrowded building, was the complete opposite of what I experienced, alone in my oversized hotel bed ordering room service, with plump white pillows and soft woolen blankets to cozy up in as the air-conditioning chilled the huge room around me. They were usually elderly, and as children we regarded them with a fond sort of mockery.

Occasionally they would ask for photos with us, particularly of my freckled friends. They bought soda bread and Aran sweaters, anything that was for sale, really. We joked that you could sell them stones, if you convinced them that the stones were Irish enough.

Some American tourists would break away from their guided tours and go driving around the island. They sometimes came knocking on our door, asking to look inside the house, thinking it was a replica of where their ancestors may have lived. Perhaps they were right: we lived in a pretty, old farmhouse, with a half door wreathed in honeysuckle, that would have looked the same one hundred years before.

The thought that, generations later, their descendants might return to the harbor town they had departed from would surely have amazed Annie and the millions who left with her.


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People only ever left, and perhaps it was a shadow of that amazement that darkened our feelings toward these perfectly lovely Americans. America was so cool! Their ancestors had left Ireland for a reason, and now they were reaping the rewards. In America, they had Michael Jackson and pizza and money, so much money! Not like Ireland, where the only music we made sounded like sad mermaids singing and I had to share a pork chop with my sister and nobody had any money.

I felt sorry then for not being kinder to the visiting Americans, for sighing on the inside when someone told me in a loud American accent they were Irish too. Whoever it was of theirs that left Ireland all those years ago took with them a snapshot of the country, its people, and its culture. The details on that picture faded throughout the years, and it could never update itself to show the changes in the country it portrayed.

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The place where their ancestors landed was at best a blank slate; at worst, an active genocide site. In their new country, America, they did not have a culture stretching back hundreds of years.

There was no set of memories to explain who they were and how they got to be that way; no music, no stories, no jokes, except those that came with them across the Atlantic. Family lore says her coffin was too wide to fit down the narrow stairs of her tenement house, and had to be hoisted out the window.

Not the big parade, not the one where thousands march and millions watch, the biggest annual parade in the city and the only one that uniformed firefighters and police are allowed to participate in. Not the one that banned gay people from marching under their own banner up until Not the Fifth Avenue parade, the one that shuts midtown down and marches past visiting dignitaries who sit in front of St. A couple of weeks before the event I went to see how preparations were going, and found myself in a small kitchen two blocks away from the last stop on the Q train—it smelled like caramel and clean laundry.

I sat chatting with the owner, Tom Moulton, a full-time pediatric hematologist oncologist and part-time baker. He was making soda bread, scones, ginger snaps, and oatmeal cookies.

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That old soda bread again , I thought, what would we do without it? Everything he made was for a bake sale to raise funds for St. Every Saturday morning in the months leading up to the parade, Fay and his committee meet in Molly Blooms, an Irish bar in Sunnyside, to organize portable toilets and pipe bands.

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They even send a truck to Brooklyn to collect puppets from a warehouse there. I mean, rescue puppets? It is true, and there are more than 2, witnesses each year, the people lining the route from Sunnyside to Woodside. This ban seemed off to me, for many reasons. The first is the fact that parades are the gayest way to travel and should therefore never exclude gay people.

And also, it showed how out of step the Irish-Americans behind the parade were with the country they claimed to represent.

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In , Ireland voted by a huge majority to legalize same-sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so by popular vote. The big parade, the one that goes up Fifth Avenue, seems solemn and self-important and symbolizes to me the difference between the idea of Irishness and the reality of Irishness.

It was self-defense against this kind of violence and bigotry that led to the Ancient Order of Hibernians forming in the first place, and so I see that it started off out of necessity, and with valor. I had this romantic idea that when the Irish first started coming in droves to America, fleeing oppression and famine, they would surely feel an affinity with the people being oppressed in their new country. Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

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