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I am a multimedia journalist currently working as a Senior Web Journalist/ Videographer with Khaleej Times in Dubai, UAE. Prior to this, I worked as a news editor with CNN’s Indian affiliate in Noida. I graduated from Syracuse University in New York state in 2012 with a Masters degree in Broadcast and Digital journalism. I have worked in video production, online journalism, features writing and market research over a period of four years.

Discovering Ireland

‘Go mbeannaí Dia duit’ (meaning May god bless you) said Dierdre McCarthy, 49, as she taught Gaelic to a bunch of people from diverse origins in an Irish language session in the Guinness Syracuse Irish festival at Clinton Square on Saturday. Her voice appeared to be diminished by the Irish band The Elders that was playing songs of history, characters, places and events – some distant, some recent, some real and some imagined. As the class ended, she exclaimed, ‘Erin go Bragh’. I wondered what that could mean.

An Irish woman in an American society
McCarthy, who came to Syracuse 25 years ago, has been teaching Gaelic for three years at Le Moyne College. Unlike other immigrants who came here because of the oppression of the British, romance brought her to Syracuse. Her husband, an Irish American, gave her complete freedom to pursue her Irish interests.
“I have fun teaching,” McCarthy said holding a Hurling ball in her hand. “Because when I was growing up in Limerick, my parents ran a pub. And it was one of the first pubs in Limerick to welcome people to speak Irish… openly. Because it was not too long that Irish language was allowed to be our own again after we got rid of the British.”
McCarthy sings Irish songs, dances to Irish music, and when at church she says the prayer in Gaelic, and not in English. Strangely enough, to retain her Irish origins she sometimes even talks to herself in Gaelic. “…and I keep my ears open, in the hope there is an Irish person walking by. If I hear people speaking Gaelic, I run towards them,” she said.
She visits schools and presents music and dance programs. She sometimes demonstrates the Irish national sport of hurling.
“I have been trying for years to get a Hurling team here in Syracuse. But it will take time as it’s an amateur sport and players are not paid,” McCarthy said. She then hit the ball or sliotar that she was holding with a wooden stick known as Hurley high up in the air.
Divisions of the Irish society
Syracuse has a huge Irish population. They have their whole neighborhood in Tipperary Hill. There are organizations such as CNY Irish cultural society, Irish American cultural society, James Joyce club and so on which are very active in the Irish community.
 “When the Irish came here first, thousands of them worked on the Erie Canal in 1820s, and that was a major water transportation system which ran from Oswego way down to buffalo to New York City. They started setting in a lot of towns around here. Tipperary Hill was one of them,” said Geordy Austin, 72, who works in the CNY Irish American cultural society.
Most of the Irish people are in New York City, other parts of New York State. Major cities such as Massachusetts, Chicago and San Francisco have many people with Irish ancestors.
Austin who is originally an Irish-Catholic from Belfast didn’t want to leave Ireland, but the oppression of the British against the Catholics forced him to take a tourist visa and immigrate to the United States 30 years ago. The unrest in Ireland started in 1968 when the Irish were trying to get civil rights under the British.
Austin didn’t go back to Ireland for years till he got a green card. “Now I am not an American citizen, I am a resident alien. I am not from out of space but I am a resident alien,” he said.
“All those who came to Ireland before 1600 were Catholics. After five years, they were marrying Irish women… speaking the Irish language. British brought Protestants from Scotland and England as colonists in 1642 and they forced the Irish-Catholics out of their lands. The British tried to disrupt the society with their philosophy of divide and conquer rule by favoring Protestants. The Protestants didn’t get absorbed in the Irish society, because they were so anti-catholic,” Austin said.
The British destroyed the Irish culture and forced them to speak English lest they would be penalized or imprisoned. They knew that by not creating jobs for them, the Irish people will be left with no choice but to join the army.
In 1700s those who chose not to adhere to the Anglican Church were forced to pay penalty – they were fined, their marriage wasn’t recognized and they couldn’t be in the military.   
“So there was a large influx of such people in this country. When they came to this country there were a lot of anti-Catholics from the puritan descendants here. This was mainly a protestant country. So when those people came who were also protestants, they were getting accused of being Irish-Catholics as they had our Irish accent and physical traits, so they started identifying themselves as the Scots-Irish,” said Austin.
And so the code of being a protestant from Ireland became “Scots-Irish” and it’s still used today in the southern states of America. President Andrew Jackson who served from 1829-1837 was Scots-Irish.
In 1847, Ireland had a potato crop failure. As the Irish were mainly living on potato, the famine caused around four and a half million people to perish.  
 “The British allowed them to die of starvation. It was a means of clearing off the land,“ Austin said.
Nearly 113,000 Irish people, mostly Irish-Catholics, came to America following the potato famine to get more economic opportunities and escape the troubles.
Austin likes the fact that in America he doesn’t have to face discrimination of the kind he experienced in Ireland. “If you had a certain name, they would know you are catholic. You would get all the low paid jobs or no jobs, and bad housing… really bad,” he said.
He thinks that being white and speaking English really helped him in America. “The darker you get the worse you are treated,” Austin said. Black people earlier wouldn’t get a job or wouldn’t even apply for one. When Austin worked in Texas and hired a black person in Texas, he faced a lot of heat from his seniors. He thinks racism goes on even now but it’s subtle because laws of America are strong to protect people of color. “Even now we see African American housing is dilapidated. People in prison being profiled are mostly blacks. The more you go towards the south, the more discrimination you’ll find.” he said.
But the Irish don’t face any outright discrimination in America, only subtle, if any. Austin says it’s because the Irish fought for the rights of this country. America has had Irish American presidents including John F Kennedy whose grandfather was from Ireland.
Although Austin loves to makes friends with people of different nationalities, he tends to lean towards his own culture. “Because we lost a lot by the British colonization of the country and by being anglocised. So we are trying to bring it back and keep it alive for passing on to posterity,” he said.
He visits his home country every year to meet his siblings and children.
Cultural significance
On being asked if the Irish schools of music, dance and literature only welcome students with Irish ancestry, Austin said, “You don’t have to be an Irish to love Ireland or to share our culture… It is for everybody.“
“The main issue that Irish educators face is to get Americans to learn about the real Irish culture which is beyond the “cartoonish” representations to which they are usually exposed. Americans feel that leprechaun and color green and things like broga are somehow the sum of Irish culture,” said Dr Kate-Costello Sullivan, who runs the Irish literature program at Le Moyne College. “Broga is actually shoe in Irish. So an Irish Broga doesn’t mean an Irish person but that he has an Irish shoe. So the main focus is to give students a better understanding of Irish culture. The complexity of it… The very ability of it.”
She said leprechaun is actually a minor figure in Irish mythology. But they just have been misinterpreted as an important figure in Irish American culture.
Le Moyne’s Irish Literature program had 10 minors last year. It is housed within the English department. She finds Syracuse a great place for teaching and studying Irish culture. “We have such a huge Irish population here,” Dr Sullivan said.
“And it is an inter-disciplinary program,” Dr Sullivan said. “So students take classes in Irish literature but they also take classes in history or global studies… to give them a sense by analogy if not directly, of Ireland’s political, social environment.”
“The things that have happened in the Irish economy in the last several years – particularly since the bank crisis in the US and Europe, Immigration has peaked again in Ireland but it’s hard to say how many will leave the country,” Dr Sullivan said.
To me it seemed that the Irish loved traditions. No wonder where they are today and where they go tomorrow, they will carry Ireland along. The Irish culture has taken thousands of years to develop, so they cherish every moment of their cultural discovery. Ireland is beyond the fancy restaurants, food, music and dances that people know of, and one needs to go deep in the crevices to discover what Ireland truly is.
I looked up the translation of the words Erin Go Bragh that I heard in McCarthy’s class. It meant “Ireland Forever”!


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