Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Certify me, I’m Irish

Somewhere along the way, my parents acquired a bit of gimcrackery that, for years, hung on the wall of the TV room, which was converted to the boys’ bedroom when the TV-housing addition was slapped on to the side of the family manse.

That bit of gimcrackery was the coat of armsrogers-coat-of-arms-family-crest of the illustrious Rogers Family. There we are, stags rampant, the knight’s visor suggesting that “we” were crusaders or jousters or whatever. It’s hard to believe that a family with firm roots in the Roscommon peasantry would have any need for a family crest.

And yet you can find all sorts of gifts – mugs, key chains, etc. – bearing this crest in souvenir stores throughout Ireland. I’m always a bit disappointed when I twirl the rack and find nothing between Roche and Ronan.

My other Irish family names have similarly preposterous coats of arms. Here’s the Trainor crest, with not one, but two, knights in shining armor. (If you look quickly, those knight-headsTrainor crest sort of resemble a hybrid of the top hat and button top shoe icons from Monopoly.) I suspect that the only authentic anything on this bit o’ hoo-hah is the X, which is likely how most of my way-back antecedents signed their names.

And if I’d changed my name with marriage, here’sdiggins-coat-of-arms-diggins-family-crest-1 the coat of arms I would have been entitled to. Is that a devil’s head in the middle there? Kind of makes sense. Other than the fact that the true Diggins’ family crest should probably have included a shovel. I don’t imagine they called them the Diggins for nothing…

What is it with the Irish, English, and Scots that they’d come up with all this bogus heraldry? Why, my mother’s German side doesn’t doesn’t seem to go in for this sort of folderol.
wolf crest
Or so I thought, until I googled Wolf coat of arms and came up with plenty to choose from.

I’ll go with this one, since it seems to combine the Wolf wolf and the Rogers stag.

So the question becomes what is it about us diasporans that has us hungering not just to reclaim our heritage – which, hey, some of us have never actually lost – but to gussy it up with all sorts of misty mystic myth?

Anyway, while there are still plenty of opportunities to order up some heraldry, the Irish government has just yesterday shut down it’s Heritage Certificate Center, where, for five lovely years, you could purchase – suitable for framing or pre-framed -a certificate attesting to yer Irish antecedents:

The Certificate is [ – make that was – ] an official Irish Government initiative which represents the enduring emotional ties and sense of identity bestowed by Irish ancestry, recognising the continuing emotional attachment of the descendants who left our shores long ago...

The certificate is an official Irish Government confirmation of your Irish Roots which will take pride of place in your home or office. This heirloom truly is a gift from the heart that your family will cherish forever to remember and honour your Irish ancestors.

All yez had to do was fill in a couple of blanks and, whether you actually had any “real” Irish roots or not, sure the Government of Ireland was willing to provide you with a handy-dandy certificate saying that you did indeed.

As Diarmaid Ferriter pointed out in a recent column on the demise of this somewhat embarrassing scheme:

The certificate initiative was adopted by a State that has paid nearly €1 billion to private operators to run direct provision centres for asylum seekers over the past 15 years, centres in which so many people feel humiliated and are residing in dire circumstances.

It is therefore deeply ironic that one of the “beautiful backgrounds” that is used on the “finest quality vellum” of the heritage certificates is that of Irish Famine ships, “that evoke the waves of emigration from these shores”.

These hideous vessels carried Irish Famine victims fleeing desperate circumstances to build a new life in America, a traumatic experience shamelessly exploited by those seeking to commodify and dumb down Irish heritage. (Source: Diarmaid Ferriter in The Irish Times)

Interesting the Ferriter talks about the “dire circumstances” in the Irish refugee centers. From this side of the pond, it always seems as if the Irish are the first on the ground in any humanitarian crisis, and certainly seem to punch above their weight in this category. But helping feed those starving on their own turf is difficult than welcoming newcomers to your own. And Ireland, like all European nations, has what I think of as the assimilation problem in that there’s not really a way from people from “somewhere else” to become Irish or French or German or Swedish, other than after multi-generations and (likely) intermarrying. Do those Nigerian school kids I’ve seen on the streets of Galway ever become Irish? Or does it matter? (Not to mention, I don’t believe that Europe could physically support the emigration of everyone who wants to leave the Africa or the Mideast, any more than the US could assimilate all of Central and South America if they decided to empty themselves out.)

Anyway, the genius of the US is that we are largely a nation of immigrants, and that once you step off the gangplank of the coffin ship, or off the plane, you can start becoming an American. And your kids, whether you like it or not – and of course you like it: why else would you come? – are 100% Americans.

And yet many of us – self certainly included here – identify with our Old World heritage. Thus, we are so readily conned by the cheesy coats of arms and bogus certificates “attesting” to something or other. While at the same time, too many of us, in these perilous times, are crapping all over those struggling to get here now. Witness a certain candidate shamelessly stirring up nativist fears about “them”.

Although I never knew they were in this silly business, I’m happy to the see the Irish Government out of their Irish-by-certification scheme.

Yet it’s fun to fast forward a century or so and imagine the governments of Mexico and Honduras and Guatemala issuing heritage documents on “the finest quality vellulm.” Even if they goofily depict the Rio Grande or the back of a truck.

Can I get an “olé”?

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