St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday that, although it is a fantastic excuse to let go for a day, has become somewhat separated in the States from its Irish inspiration. We wanted to get an Irish-American perspective from our own Irish citizen – yep, Chef Joe Scully.
What does your Irish heritage mean to you and to your extended family? Is there a long history there?
I have always had fun with the idea of being an Irish-American. I am mostly of Irish stock with some English and Dutch from my maternal grandmother. My fathers family were quarrymen from western Ireland who came here with several other families and settled in the Hudson River Valley. Like many immigrants, they worked their way up and out, generation by generation. My grandfather had an eighth grade education, but my father graduated from college. On the other branch of the family, my mothers dad was brought to the US by his parents as a little boy. He passed away before I was born but all the stories point to a jovial, industrious fellow. My mom had eight siblings, about half sporting red hair and all of them with a sprinkling of freckles and good humor.
There are several stereotypes that have been assigned to Irish-American; some endearing, some less so. Truth be told, we did have a huge family. My mom gave birth to nine children. Our relationship to beer and whiskey has some history of its own, with wild stories to go along. Mostly though, in line with my fathers influence, we kept our “Irishness” pretty low key. He didn’t care for Saint Paddy’s Day. I believe because he saw it as another stereotypical way to keep Irish-Americans in a certain place in the hierarchy of our adopted country by acting silly in a big parade, getting drunk and appearing foolish.
On balance, I am proud of my Irish heritage, I have been to the “Emerald Isle” and absolutely love everything about it. The people, the countryside, and even the food are all highly recommended.
You have dual Irish-American citizenship. Can you describe what that process was like?
Having had a grandfather “right off the boat” put me in the relatively unique position of being able to apply for Irish citizenship. Many of my siblings have applied for and gotten dual citizenship. The application process is long and it ain’t cheap. What you get, if you qualify, is an actual Irish birth certificate. Crazy, right? So, with my wife’s help, I did the deed. It took several years and loads of paperwork. The result was an Irish passport and the birth certificate. I am not exactly sure how I might use this wonderful gift from the Irish government, but it certainly gives me a different perspective on the idea of living in Europe. Our daughter, Frances, has also gotten her birth certificate and passport, so she, with her blazing red hair, will fit right in in Dublin or Cork City.
Are there any Irish traditions your family upheld?
The Irish tradition of copious procreation has already been mentioned, so looking at my childhood, it is hard to see much in the way of “tradition”. We did have Corned Beef and Cabbage around once a month. Not the most favorite amongst us kids, but way better than my mom’s Liver and Onions!