“Mr. McManus, are you really Irish?” my student asks skeptically, knowing as she does that every Irish person she’s ever seen has been white, and also knowing that I’m not even remotely white.
“Of course I am,” I reply, with a twinkle in my eye.
“But how can you be Irish?” she asks, trying not to say what everyone else in the class is thinking.
“Haven’t you heard of Black Irish?” I say, and it ends the debate. But, as usual when someone asks me the question and I reply in this way, I can’t help but start laughing not less than one minute after giving the answer. Then everyone in the class starts laughing too, but they have absolutely no idea why they’re laughing. Because it’s not funny, not really. And I really do feel Irish.
From the time I was young I’ve felt a kinship with all things Irish. Green has always been my favorite color. I found a four-leaf clover when I was seven and kept it until it disintegrated. My last name is McManus. I look really good in a kilt. My favorite band is U2. And the list goes on. You know how people feel like they were adopted because they don’t fit in their family structure? Well, I was the opposite. I felt like I was adopted because I fit in so well with a completely different structure, namely being Irish.
I asked my mom if it was possible that I had some Irish blood in me. I mean, I knew all about how most slaves got their last names, and I thought maybe a slaveowner somewhere along the line had Irish roots. She said she didn’t know. Then I asked her if any of her grandparents had Irish roots. She said she didn’t know. Then I asked if I was adopted. She gave me a look that said I should probably leave the room. I did. But I never gave up on the dream.
Then I was given the possibility I’d always dreamt of. No, not finding out that I was really Irish and had been adopted on the, eh hem, black market. But close enough. I got the chance to go to the mother country (i.e. Ireland). And, let me tell you, it was everything and more than I could have hoped for. It truly felt like coming home, as if I had been there my entire life. The rolling hills, the goats and sheep on those hills, the narrow roads, the castles, the blokes speaking with Irish accents, I felt like I was in heaven. Oh, and the pints of Guinness. Almost forgot those.
Now I’m sitting here listening to U2’s seminal album, The Unforgettable Fire, and wondering how I can get back to the land of my “ancestors.” Black Irish indeed.