Tuesday, March 17, 2009
St. Patrick's Day: celebrating earthly salvation
Posted by Bob Sommer
That’s my grandmother’s name up above, Hannah Driscoll, traced from an etching on the granite wall at Ellis Island. She and her sisters passed through there in the first decades of the 20th century. They left Ireland with food and clothing in shopping bags and cleaned hotel rooms in New York after they arrived. They were amazed at the skyscrapers and the clothes lines that hung over the alleys between apartment buildings. Hannah never returned to Ireland and never saw her parents again. My Irish heritage includes other relatives from other branches – and my ancestry also includes other nationalities, some German, some English (like many Americans, and President Obama, we’re mutts) – but I’ve always cherished her story for its simplicity: a life so harsh and difficult that no alternative remained. Her parents couldn’t support her. Courage may have been her last option. She was a teenage girl when she arrived here. She traveled alone: her older sister Mary had come ahead, and their youngest sister Nora would later follow. I imagine her in steerage on the ship; then pushed and crowded in the lines at the customs center, likely terrified at the prospect of being rejected for some unanticipated reason; and finally finding Mary in the crowd at the ferry dock. She came, so we’re here. St. Patrick’s Day is more an American holiday than an Irish one, a celebration of lineage, a bonding in a new and different place; it’s a holiday of triumph and salvation, a very earthly kind of salvation – Hannah and Mary and Nora’s house (if that’s even the right word for it) in Ireland had dirt floors. I’ve always told my children that every day is St. Patrick’s Day at our house. She came, so we’re here. Our lives are the measure of that triumph.