First Generation American: Questions of Legacy and Identity


Legacy: this is the concept that has been haunting me this St. Patrick’s Day. What is the legacy I am leaving to my children? Forget the materialism and possessions that crowd our lives, but what actual legacy — actual gift, am I giving to them? Am I giving them a sense of self through knowing their family history? Am I able to give them access to their heritage, even though there are so many blanks in my family history as my mom died when I was 16 and my dad when I was 20?

St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday for my family. It is not the green-beer drinking, leprechaun bringing treats kind of day. Rather it is a holiday to proudly celebrate my Irish heritage with  family and friends around the table with corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread (grandma’s recipe) and Guinness. There is always traditional Irish music playing and Irish step dancing in the kitchen. It is  a way to remember and cherish the memories of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.



I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because of my father. He was born and raised in Wicklow County, Ireland–the county on Dublin’s southern border. Not many people outside of Ireland have heard of Wicklow, as Wicklow does not make the rounds of tourist stops. It is overshadowed by the lights, history, and big city draw of Dublin. Wicklow is the “Garden of Ireland” and it is stunning. Beautiful gardens, landscapes, seascapes all around, but lacks in employment opportunities. And when my dad was growing up there, it was a small farming community.



Being here in Wicklow, taking in all of the beauty, I can understand how my dad left his heart here.



He completed school (the required school–eighth grade) and began working on the family farm. For reasons unknown to me–not sure if it was his own doing, or being pushed by family members, he made his way to America. When he first came to the US,  he bounced between family members a in NYC, Pittsburgh and Detroit. He eventually got into the labor union in NYC and worked in the meatpacking district. He met my mom at an Irish dance Pittsburgh, and the rest is history.

My dad, like so many immigrants, left his heart in his homeland. My dad loved Ireland. Throughout his life  in America, he clung to his Irish heritage. He played on a traveling Irish football team, joined the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh, only listened to Irish music, subscribed to Irish newspapers, and had meat and potatoes for dinner every single night. (Every. Single. Night.)

And swore like the dickens especially if he was behind the wheel of a car.

My dad could have quickly assimilated into American culture, (he looked the part) but he clung to his ‘Irish-ness’ and instilled in me that I am Irish as well. When I was brought home from the hospital the first thing my dad did was play traditional Irish music. In his eyes, I was Irish as well as American.  

He made sure I was part of the Irish Catholic community. I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten through graduate school. I was an Irish step dancer for most (seemingly all) of my life, and my parents and I  would travel all over the United States, Canada, and Ireland for competitions.



We also traveled back ‘home’ to Ireland more times than I can count.

And although my dad is gone, I carry on his legacy of Irish-ness.  Although my family and I are active members of our local community, as testament to my father’s legacy, my daughters are Irish step dancers and dance in St. Patrick’s Day parades and Irish step dancing competitions.




All of children have visited his homeland and formed special bonds with my uncles, aunts and cousins still living in Ireland. The legacy of my father lives on through myself and my children (in some ways unintentionally, as I swear like the dickens when driving a car.) My dad will not be forgotten. Slainte, Dad.