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March 17 is Saint Patrick’s Day, a day to honor the patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle in the fifth century.
Although my mother never claimed to have any Irish blood in her (an African American by phenotype), I remember her being very annoyed by signs against the Irish. I don’t know if she ever saw the signs or if she just read about them.
We had an Irish neighbor whom we loved dearly and called Aunt Thea (her wish). Aunt Thea’s house was a refuge for my sister and me if things got a bit uncomfortable at home. Aunt Thea made us aware of Catholicism and other countries through her booklets on Catholic Charities.
My mother liked to sing, and she often sang the chorus to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” which was published in 1912. The lyrics were written by Irish American stage actor, songwriter and singer Chauncey Olcott (1858-1932) and songwriter George Gruff, Jr. (1886-1973). The music was composed by Ernest Ball (1878-1927).
When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, it’s like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter,
You can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy,
All the world seems bright and gay,
And when Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure, they steal your heart away.
My memories of my mom singing this song and of Aunt Thea magnify the words on a T-shirt a friend bought me at the Adler Planetarium: “One People, One Sky.”
HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!