Date of publication: January 30, 2000
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"Editors want everything to fall into a neat little box, and your stuff doesn't do that. You don't write merely about technology, you write about what technology means to us and how it has changed us. I like it." -- John Boxmeyer, St. Paul
I grew up in an industrial part of northern Ohio where Irish people were few and far between. As a result, my sense of being Irish was patched together from books. I imagined an Irishman like myself to be an amalgam of Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, and Jonathan Swift - quick-witted and infuriating.
So that's what I set out to be. I attended a Scots college in Ohio, Wooster. Our cheerleaders wore tartans and the band played the pipes. I thought it was all highly risible.
It wasn't until Rachel was accepted to nursing school at Yale in 1980 that I learned about the working Irish of the east - "the scrum of the earth" was how one Southie resident on 60 Minutes described them.
I remember driving through New Haven one winter's night and saw a figure in the road, half blanketed with snow. When I jumped down from my truck to investigate, I saw it was a girl of about 15. A very drunk girl.
I loaded her into the pickup to warm her up, and asked her where she lived. Half conscious, she dismissed me saying, "You know where I live."
I became very stern at this point. "Young lady, I do not know where you live, and I'm very afraid that it was a mistake picking you up off the street."
The girl, who must have weighed about 80 pounds, opened an eye, sized me up and said, "You know what you are?"
"No," I said, "what am I?"
"You're a fooken Mick," she said. "You know how I know?"
"No, how do you know?"
"Because," she hiccupped, "I'm a fooken Mick, too." And passed out.
I delivered my young guest to the constabulary, but I could not shake the feeling of having been told something true. Something … disturbing.
So 20 years pass. I've resettled in the cozy Celtic city of St. Paul. My mom, a crack genealogist - now, you know what that means -- has taught me much about my ancestors. It turns out that, tartan cheerleaders to the contrary notwithstanding, I am Scots Irish.
My mother explained to me how the Irish invaded Scotland and settled there, and the Scots, including the Finleys - a wonderful band of individuals, to hear the tales -- responded in kind to Ireland a bit later, resulting in a mixing of the two races. If I said I had a clear idea of it I'd be lying, but there's the gist of it.
At about this time, I start getting mail from the Clan Farquharson, a Scots genealogical newsletter. It turns out that if you are a Finley, then you belong to Clan Farquharson. In fact, you have bloody little choice in the matter. So one evening I bundle my suddenly Scots family - my spouse plus the two wee bairns - and attend a splendid Scots bonfire on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi.
There I chatted with a grand little Farquharson gentleman, about five foot two. Oh, he was wee, but he was extremely masculine about it. I told him I was told I was Scottish, but I never felt much kinship with the Scots, that I was raised thinking I was just Irish.
He eyed me keenly. "Well, do you like the pipes, lad?"
I allowed as how, when the mood was right, the droning of the pipes - I was thinking of halftime performances at Wooster -- could put me in a certain mood. But at all times I retained free will, able to take the pipes or leave them be.
He shook his head disgustedly. "Aye laddie, if ye don't like the pipes," he said, "ye're not a Scot."
That unkind remark must have spurred something in me, because I have gone all out the past few years to become a better Irishman and a Scot. I joined Clan Farquharson. My family hosted a boy from Belfast this past summer - although I am convinced he was more the cause of The Troubles than the victim of them.
And I became president of the Minnesota Folk Festival, which will put on a huge free show September 23, featuring a proportionate share of melodies of the British Isles, on the state capitol grounds in St. Paul.
And you know what I like best of it - the sorrowful, straining sound of the Irish pipes. Yep, they have them there, too.
Looking back on it all, I feel I was given the word by two supernatural visitors, the booze-breathed girl in the snow in New Haven, and the banty rooster gent by the blazing bonfire.
From the fire and the ice, I'd like to summon their spirits, if I could, and address their accusations. Because I understand now. I understand everything.
It's true, it's true. I am a fooken Mick.
But you should be knowing I'm a fooken Scot, to boot.
To learn more about the Minnesota Folk Festival, visithttp://mfinley.com/folk
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