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Irish Ancestors

August 2, 2015

When I was growing up, my parents had derogatory terms for people of all nationalities.  They often used these in jest, but sometimes they were serious about people they considered inferior.  Sometimes these terms were just a way to describe people.  I didn’t know what my background was, but I knew it couldn’t be one of those despised groups.  My best guess was Scottish.  I knew I couldn’t be Irish or English.

When my grandfather became friends with a family of Irish farmers from the western part of this province, my mother was amused that they called him `Mac’.  She insisted that he was Scottish because his name began with `Mc’.  I found out much later that both `Mac’ and `Mc’ were used in both Scotland and Ireland: they didn’t indicate your nationality at all.

My mother recalls that her mother used to go to the Orange Lodge.  That’s an Irish Protestant organization that began in Northern Ireland.  In Ireland, they are a conservative and unionist group.  Here in Canada, Orange halls were also community cultural centres.  My mother now regards the Orange order with some distrust.

Recently, two people did the genealogy of both sides of my mother’s family.  Genealogy is not very scientific.  The number of ancestors doubles every generation you go back.  After a few generations, you need to prune the tree just to keep the number manageable.  You also run out of records, at least for ordinary people.  Consequently, most of your ancestors get left out.

We did learn a few things, in spite of these limitations.  My family had been in Canada for many generations.  All of their names were Irish names.  That was a surprise.  They came from Ireland a couple of centuries ago.  That was a surprise too, but it made the matter quite clear.  I was Irish!  All of my ancestors were Protestant too;  it must have been Northern Ireland.

A friend of mine told me about her husband.  He had a French name and came from Montreal.  He became interested in genealogy.  He traced his family through many generations back to the original French settlers near Montreal.  He traced them back to France.  There he got a surprise.  Their name in France was O’Brian; they came from Ireland too.  That was where his genealogical quest ended: he had run out of records.

It’s interesting how attitudes have changed.  My brothers and I don’t care about nationality or religion.  Both of these were important to my parents, although they are less important now than they were when my parents were young.  My grandparents carried over some of their prejudices from their Irish ancestors.  Earlier generations must have been even more intolerant of other people, although I don’t have specific details.  Living in Canada was responsible for some of the change, although I’m sure that people still living in Ireland have changed too.  It does take some time for irrational beliefs to fade away.


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