Wonder why I say this? In today’s hypersensitive world, celebrating ancestry and heritage is still alive and well. Yes, you say, but what about the Greek Festivals, Chinese New Year, Black History Month, or Cinco de Mayo? My response is they are celebrated, with each and every one important. We all should be proud of our heritage.
Let me explain further. In my family, our heritage was passed down from great-grandparents, to grandparents, to parents, to children, and in each case there were photos, birth certificates, family linage/trees, going as far back as the late 1700s. On my mother’s side, in detail, we can trace her linage back to the Isle of Skye, via Inverness, Nova Scotia, and Canada. They were mainly from the MacLeod clan. While on my father’s side, they came from England, Scotland, and Wales through South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, to a small town in southern Tennessee, as far back as the late 1700s.
“So what?” you say. Well with DNA testing opportunities, such as Ancestry.com promoting the idea of heritage and family linage I wanted to see how this test would compare to my deep family traditions. To my surprise, the results were spot-on (80 percent Irish/Scottish; 8 percent Norway; 12 percent Wales/England) to the details and diaries collected over generations in my family.
As I dug deeper, around 400 – 500 A.D., what we now know as Great Briton (Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland) and the Irish Republic were made up of three distinct groups. The Picts (north and eastern Scotland), the Britons (Lowland Scotland, Wales, England, and northern France), and the Scots (Ireland and west coast of Scotland where settlers from the Irish petty kingdom of Dál Riata were beginning to establish themselves on the west coast).
It turns out, although I associate with my Scottish Heritage, from the DNA perspective I am really descended from the “Scots” who were from what is now Ireland! Yes Irish……..the Scots, Picts, and Britons (which by this time also included the Angles and Norse/Norway and Saxons/Germanic) fought several wars and by 900 A.D., this resulted in the unification of Scots and Picts into a single kingdom in 844 with the Scots culture prevailing. Thus Scotland!
I stand tall with pride for my Irish/Scottish/Welsh heritage and to be an American and consider all groups equally as important regardless of their heritage! This country was and continues to be fluid and dynamic because of all our backgrounds. How many different foods do we consume, yet take for granted the history and significance of them? Having taught International Food and Culture for nearly 8 years at a university, it became apparent how little is known about the foods we eat and why!
I will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day as well as attending the 2019 the New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival wearing my Scottish clan kilt (MacLeod), not because of my DNA results, but because this is who I am and the long linkage to these ancient groups is worth celebrating.
Everyone should celebrate, because the more we understand and appreciate each other’s distinct heritage, the more respect and appreciation we can have (and hopefully less harsh discourse). In the end we are all Americans with a story to tell.
This coming Sunday, March 17, I will enjoy a tall perfectly poured Guinness with a family tradition of braised corned beef, potatoes, carrots, and homemade fermented cabbage. Oh and hot Irish soda bread as well!
As for the old expression “breaking bread,” it means more than just eating; it is sharing a sense of community with someone or some group of people. It is a significant event that fosters meaningful connections and cooperation. This St. Patrick’s Day, break some soda bread and share the Irish Holiday while considering what other heritage holidays can be celebrated over food and with friends. Toast “sláinte mhaith”
Nelson A. Barber, PhD, teaches at Lakes Region Community College and consults on food and wine.