DeLight Side: Remembering Irish roots, family lore as St. Paddy’s Day approaches

I got the name Sheehan from my Irish husband.

On St Patrick’s Day, he played his tin whistle and his harmonica, and I played the keyboard at a restaurant. We each took the day off without pay, but we were so proud of the money in that tip jar – although it was much, much less than our salaries.

Our children did competitive Irish dance. One of their instructors, from Ireland, was a World Champion Irish dancer. She was performing in Las Vegas and also taught. Our girls twirled bounced and smiled.

Our pudgy son, named Sean Patrick Sheehan, had cutoff jeans sewed inside his kilt because his fourth-grade friends didn’t wear kilts. He danced with pursed lips, concentrating on the steps, trying not to macramé his legs. The daughters got the awards, but our son got the invitations.

My Irish husband arranged for our children to go to Trinity College in Dublin between their junior and senior years. Our Methodist, Las Vegas, Irish children met up with Boston Irish Catholics. The monthlong class included history, music, dance, and a week with a host family.

When our first child came back from her summer, we excitedly paid to get her photographs processed. What did she learn about her Irish roots? We expected that her experience would be just about as good as going there ourselves.

Two rolls of photos! Could hardly open them fast enough.

Every single photo was of the host family’s cat. The cat ad nauseam. Not a glimpse of Ireland.

We met our third child in Ireland at the end of her Trinity College classes. Our first impression in Ireland was how happy-go-lucky the Irish were. They drove on the wrong side of the road, and acted as if it was the normal thing to do.

We had no choice but to also drive on the left — when we remembered. Sometimes we forgot.

When a rattling beer truck came toward us on a narrow road, my husband quickly drove further right, which caused honking, some “words,” and then a fist.

Everyone we met had a story—a fun-loving story. Actually a tall tale in a brogue that we sometimes didn’t understand. So fun.

What a distraction from the work-a-day world we had left at home.

We had saved money to buy a harp. So, at the pub I asked about buying a harp.

Three steroid-looking-studs immediately jostled among themselves and offered to buy me a harp. 

“Come with me…Want to dance…”

I didn’t get it.

I shrank away, as I had my husband’s passport and plane ticket in my purse.

That is where I learned that Harp is a beer brand. So that was why that beer truck had Harp painted on it.

We went back to Ireland years later after Ireland joined the Euro, the European Union. Ireland was a different country. Smog. Traffic. The Irish dialect, the radio music and even the fun-loving stories changed.

At the Shannon bus stop, a chatty girl told us she came to Ireland with her boyfriend who worked at Dell. She explained loud enough for all at the bus stop to hear: “The pubs in Ennis are for music, the pubs in Limerick are for crack.”

“Oh my, this is Euro influence,” I thought as my husband and I quietly backed away.

At touristy Bunratty Castle, a weathered man with a pipe told stories in the Ireland brogue and sang traditional Irish music. That’s where we learned that music is music and “crack” is comedy.

We came back with lots of photos, but didn’t look up the cat.

P.S. This aerospace engineer’s funeral was a Dry Irish Wake at Vale Christian Church.

Vale writer Pauline Sheehan explores DeLight Side in columns for the Malheur Enterprise.