As we prepare to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day, I reflect back upon my family’s migration from Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, and what Irish identity means to me. As Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a recent address, the Irish are a migrant people. We have brought our wit, our charm, our knowledge, and our cultural traditions to many new homelands around the world. Saint Patrick’s own life story is one of hardship and migration. He was trafficked into Ireland as a slave, managed to escape, but chose to leave his native land again only to return to Ireland. So migration is a fundamental component of the Irish story. That is why I speak out in favor of migrant rights in the United States and abroad.
But beyond Saint Patrick, this Day is a celebration of Irishness and Ireland herself, a land of incredible imagination. On this tiny island on the edge of Europe, ideas are born. Not only that, it is where ideas flourish. Ireland is the land of saints and scholars. It is the land of a thousand welcomes. Ireland is a land of optimism. It is a land of genius and belief. Our history of colonialism taught us resilience. Our struggles for independence gave us immense strength to face the most insurmountable odds. Irish culture and history gave us our jovial spirits, but more than that, it gave us sovereignty of our own minds. Saint Patrick’s Day reminds me that I am Irish and that I am free in spirit. I am wild at heart, but I am gentle. I am ready to fight, but I also have the smile of a child. I am both ancient and contemporary. I am curious. I absolutely treasure the sacred trust of learning and the journey towards knowledge.
Irishness is not simply my culture. Irishness is my lifeblood. It gives me my creativity. It gives me my eternal hope. It gives me my durability. It gives me my courage. When I lived in Ireland, I dug and dug into hundreds of records and eventually located our ancestral land. This magical spot (pictured) is still owned by Considines, who are found along the Atlantic seabed, just miles from the Cliffs of Moher. I send warm early greetings to the Irish diaspora and all those who celebrate Irishness on Saint Patrick’s Day.