This I Believe

Colleen - Western Springs, Illinois
Entered on February 26, 2007
Age Group: Under 18

Heritage. Encarta’s dictionary defines it as “something such as a way of life or traditional culture that passes from one generation to the next in a social group.” Most people can easily memorize and rattle off this definition, but cannot fully comprehend its true impact on a person. I believe in learning the true meaning of heritage, by visiting the countries of one’s ancestors and connecting with the people and the culture that exist there, and finding the influence of that culture on oneself.

As a child, I always knew I was Irish. I had the fair Irish skin, with lots of freckles and blue eyes. My name was a complete give-away as well. On the first day of school, my new teachers would read off my name and immediately ask, “Are you Irish?” knowing the answer as soon as the question had slipped out of their mouth. But until I visited Ireland with my cousin’s family in 2003, I thought being Irish was no more than celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day annually.

In July of 2003, I traveled to Ireland with my aunt, uncle, and their three children. We stayed at my uncle’s father’s farm in County Offaly. I learned that a typical Irish family ate lots of potatoes and boiled meats, watched Spongebob in Gaelic on television, and only had heat in one room. I traveled to County Mayo, where my cousins and I climbed Croagh Patrick, a huge mountain overlooking Clew Bay. Many Irishmen climb the rocky, 2,150 foot mountain barefoot each year as a part of their Catholic faith. This pilgramage is similar to climbing the Sears Tower barefoot twice. I also visited Dublin, viewing all the different aspects of Ireland today, as well as its history, such as touring St. Stephen’s Green, a popular park, complete with pathways and playgrounds, and seeing the Book of Kells, a historic Bible with Celtic designs. Besides touring all the different places of Ireland, I got to spend time with many of the natives there. I met a wide variety of people there, from priests and nuns to cousins of my cousins. I realized many Irish folk are very faith-orientated, hospitable, love to argue and joke around. I learned about the true Irish way of life, and about the personalities of many of the people there.

I believe in connecting with one’s culture and heritage by visiting the countries one’s ancestors came from to help understand family traditions. Through my trip to Ireland, I have learned why my large Irish family acts the way they do. They are constantly teasing one another and arguing over unimportant things, yet they are very hospitable, always welcoming in my family whenever we arrive on their doorstep. I have also learned why I am so strongly connected to my Catholic faith, and have seen undertones of the qualities of my family starting to emerge in myself. Heritage is not just a definition from a dictionary; it is a learning process, learning about the people and their way of life in the countries one’s ancestors are from and how it impacts one’s family. This I believe.