“On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish!” Really? Just what is Irish? Is it the ruffian who flung his elbow in my face as he passed me in Killkenny? Or is it the people named McGree who invited me to their home for dinner? Is it the parish priest who let me look through church records? Or is it the woman who smoked in the no-smoking car on the train back to Dublin. Just like any other group, ethnic, religious, or skin hue, there are many different behaviors from the generous to the hateful.
One St. Patrick’s Day, my mother proclaimed that we were “Orange-Irish”. I don’t think she had a clue. If she knew the ancestry of my paternal grandfather, she certainly didn’t pass it on to me. Neither did my German-born paternal grandmother.
From all the genealogical research I’ve done, it seems that the surname Magree, McGree, or MacGree comes from Ireland. However, from all the genealogical research I’ve done, I have found no ancestor in my male line that was definitively born in Ireland.
The closest was my great grandfather, John J.R. Magree, who variously claimed to be born in Brooklyn or England. In the last year or two I found that he was born in Liverpool of an American and a woman living in Liverpool. Her name was Margaret Pope. Her father was a customs officer, and so I assume she was not born in Ireland.
John James Richard Magree’s father was John Cornelius Magree, who generally went by John C. Magree. I did find a record of his getting his seaman’s certificate in 1833 at the age of 15. In the 1850 census he was listed first in a crew of a ship in New York or Brooklyn. In 1851 he was the master of the ship Ivanhoe bringing about 400 immigrants from Liverpool to New York. Most of the passengers were Irish. I did not find a Margaret Pope or Margaret Magree in the passenger list.
I did link John C. Magree to his father twice. John C.’s marriage document named his father as Vincent Magree. The 1830 Census did list Vincent Magree’s household as containing a male about 12 years old.
With Ancestor,com, I can find no record other than these two of Vincent Magree. I wonder if he (or others) anglicized his name from Vincenzo Magri to Vincent Magree. I have found records where a Magri has also been named Magree. It’s possible that my paternal line comes from Italy; one relative told me that one of uncles looked “Spanish”. I do know that I was one of the few “curly-haired” males in my family.
Just who are these “Irish” that the English of another time called a “race”? We do know they were Celts who drove out another group. Was this displaced group the “fairies”? But then the Vikings came raping and pillaging. After that another wave of Vikings came, but they were called Normans (Norse men). But the Normans had settled in France, so are the Irish French? Partly! Names like Fitzpatrick come from the French Fils-Patrick, meaning son of Patrick. Then the English came a-pillaging and taking land. This invasion was so devastating that many Irish left for the Americas and Australia.
When the descendants of the Irish immigrants to Australia come to the United States, what do we call them? Australians!
I do know that many grandchildren of people who immigrated to other countries are often labelled with their ancestry, but I don’t know if these labels persist for so many generations as they do in the U.S. I enjoy springing the question “What nationality is the King of Sweden?” By American reckoning he is French. He is a descendant of one of Napoleon’s marshals: Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte! Some often respond that Queen Elizabeth II is German. She’s a descendant of Prince Albert of Saxony.
What are people who immigrate to the U.S. or their descendants called when they go back the “Old Country”? Americans! I read one Swedish novel where a man worked in Chicago for several years, came back to his home town, and was labelled as “American”. I read another where a second-generation woman came back, could hardly speak Swedish, and was called “American”.
I was an “Ugly American” in Europe for six years. If you read “The Ugly American” you know that he was the good guy in the local view and the “bad guy” in the expatriate community. “The Ugly American” learned the language and customs of the host country, and he didn’t spend all of his time in the “country club” American community.
I worked on learning the languages of the countries I visited and used them both in speaking and reading. A few others didn’t even make an attempt and were miserable. In fact, one European colleague called me a “Northern European” because I worked at blending in.
But I can’t resist being the other kind of “Ugly American” in this country. When someone says they are Swedish or Italian, I ask “Talar du svenska?” or “Parlai italiano?” “Do you speak Swedish?” or “Do you speak Italian?” Generally the response is either befuddlement or a negative reply.
So, this assumed descendant of some Irish immigrant won’t be drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s Day. As much as he likes Guinness or Smithwick, he will probably be drinking a couple of glasses of Italian wine. Sláinte or cin-cin!
Also printed in the Reader Weekly of Duluth, 2016-03-17 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2016/03/17/6888_i_am_american_not_irish.
P.S. About green beer and other "Irish" fare, see http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/dining/corned-beef-and-cabbage-not-so-irish-historians-say.html.