Celebrating Irish Heritage on St. Patrick’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day is only a few days away! Here are some ways that we’ve been celebrating our Irish Heritage:
Learn about your Irish Heritage
Did you know that 3.7 million American residents claim Irish ancestry? According to this graphic, that’s more than 7X the population of Ireland. Between 1830 and 1940, nearly 4.5 million Irish immigrants arrived in the United States. Do you have any Irish immigrants in your family tree? If so, here’s an article about how to find more records about them from the FindMyPast blog:
Decorate with Photos and Maps
As I’ve said before, my son loves decorating for holidays. I’ve never liked the rainbows and leprechaun decorations that I’ve seen around, so I don’t usually decorate for St. Patrick’s Day. This year, we decided to focus on our Irish Heritage and let that guide our decorations. I checked Grandma’s Pie to quickly see which of my ancestors were born in Ireland. Two of my 6th great grandparents were possibly originally from Ireland, but no records substantiate these oral traditions yet. My Hollingsworth ancestors lived in Ireland in the 1600s, but were really from England and just stayed in Ireland for a short time before coming to America.
So, I decided to focus on my husband’s 2nd great grandmother, Margaret Ann McCleve and her family, who lived in County Down, Northern Ireland in the 1800s. I printed pictures of Margaret and her parents to put on my shelves. I found some green books and candles, and printed a vintage map of Ireland and a photo of the Irish countryside. Next, I gathered a few records about the McCleve family and old maps of Northern Ireland. I used them to make a shamrock banner, which was inspired by this tutorial for making a St. Patrick’s Day banner at Lilluna.com.
Do Fun Activities Together
As I cut out the shamrocks for the banner, my children worked on these Irish Heritage Coloring Books that I made.
I used StoryBoardThat.com to create these images:
Disclosure: Although I am not a StoryBoard That affiliate, they graciously gave me a three month subscription for free so I could try their product a little more and share about it here. I had previously found and signed up for their service for a month last year while I made my Illustrated Ancestor Storybook and was very happy with it!
The first time I used StoryBoard That, I created color images. This time, I wanted them to be coloring pages so I selected the “pencil drawing” option instead. The Irish Heritage Coloring Books also have a map and flag to color. You can download a copy here:
My daughter loves to paint, so we also did some shamrock stamping with a bell pepper.
My son was thrilled at the prospect of his artwork being included in the decorations. We framed his map and added it to the mix.
Share Bite Sized Stories
I found many stories on FamilySearch to tell my children about their Irish ancestors. I read many fascinating stories and wanted to share them all. However…I realized that it would be best to tell them just a few snippets here and there as we went about our day. Here are some of the things I told them while we worked on our decorations and coloring books:
“Your third great grandmother was born in Ireland. Her name is Margaret Anne McCleve. She came to the United States in 1856. Her mom and dad were John and Nancy McCleve. Lots of people in Ireland have “Mc” in their last name. Nancy was a McFerren and her grandma was a McHarry. They lived in Northern Ireland. On the map, you can see that Northern Ireland is now part of the United Kingdom. Here at the tip of the island is where your ancestors lived, near Belfast. This part is called St. Helen’s Bay.
“When Margaret was a teenager, there was a potato famine in Ireland. Almost all of the potato plants were diseased and people were hungry. Many of them went to America. Your ancestors were okay because their landlord was nice to them and helped them.”
“Margaret and her family joined the Mormon church and decided to leave Ireland and come to the United States. They sailed across the ocean in ships and it was a very difficult journey. Margaret’s mother took care of a sick baby the entire voyage and her barrels of fine linens were lost during a storm.
“When the McCleves were crossing the United States to join the Mormons in Utah, they didn’t have cars or trains or wagons. They pushed wooden handcarts with all their belongings. Two days before they reached Salt Lake Valley, John’s handcart almost went over a cliff. He tried to stop it and got injured. He passed away from his injuries before arriving at their destination.”
I’ve found that the best stories are usually the ones that I can tell from memory. If I have to get out a piece of paper and read from it, I quickly lose their attention!
In the past, we’ve had green milk, green eggs and other green themed food on St. Patrick’s Day.
Although I’ve never made it, I recently learned that the “traditional” Irish meal of corned beef and cabbage isn’t very Irish. Irish Americans came up with it as they reinterpreted a tradition from their homeland. According to this History.com article, Irish people more commonly ate lean smoked pork (similar to Canadian bacon) and potatoes.
If your ancestors were Irish American immigrants who lived in New York, you’ll definitely want to keep the corned beef and cabbage tradition alive. If you’re looking to celebrate with a less Americanized food, try Colcannon or Boxty! (Here is a list of more Irish food ideas at Irish Central).
Irish Family Traditions
I asked two of my friends about their St. Patrick’s Day Traditions.
My neighbor Katie is a descendant of the O’Hennesseys of County Cork, Ireland. Her ancestors immigrated about 100 years ago and settled in Illinois, where she grew up. For her, Saint Patrick’s Day more of a religious celebration. As a Catholic Feast day, her family attends mass and remembers the deeds and miracles of Saint Patrick. She attended Irish Catholic school and on the day of the Chicago Saint Patrick’s Day parade, she remembers that school was cancelled so everyone could attend. Celebrations for Saint Patrick’s day in Chicago are a big deal – they dye the river green, everyone dresses up, and even the beer is green!
A friend of my mother’s, Tonya McBride, shared with us how her family celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day every year:
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in our home is a tradition similar to Valentine’s day in others. It is an expression of love. When I was dating my husband in college I learned that his parents were Irish, as in born and raised, and knew this was a unique and fun attribute. When St. Patrick’s day came around my roommate was making a fun plate of cookies for her boyfriend I thought I’d like to do the same. I spent a little extra time decorating a tinfoil shaped shamrock plate and wrote a cute note wishing him a great day. He had received many plates of cookies and other treats as a bachelor, but none so special and personal. Those cookies would be a major deciding factor in his decision to marry me, and therefore became legendary in our home, spurring our fun celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day forever.
To celebrate this fun holiday we prepare by making sure everyone has something green to wear, sometimes adding fun accessories like headbands, sticker tattoos, cool socks, or jewelry. These accessories are not limited to the humans of our home and often include green bandanas for the dogs. First thing St. Patrick’s Day morning a trip to the kitchen reveals the presents left the night before by the leprechaun for each member of the family. These include any number of green items imaginable, food, toys, gum, air fresheners, etc. With the gifts is always a box of Lucky Charms, bowls, and green cutlery to enjoy for breakfast.
Lunch and snacks throughout the day are green and dinner is either entirely green or native Irish cuisine. Some examples include green eggs and pancakes, potato soup, Irish soda bread, Irish meat pies, shamrock shaped cheese ravioli, and Shepherd’s pie.
In memory of the legendary cookies I make a special plate of shamrock sugar cookies each year for my husband that he kindly shares with the family, reserving the single heart shaped cookie for himself that represents the love we found so many years ago.
What traditions does your family do for St. Patrick’s Day? How do you celebrate your Irish Heritage?