Through marriage, I now have a large Irish family.
This is a continually astonishing gift. I come from a comparatively small family which, as I wrote about in my former post “On Weddings,” has become even smaller over the thirteen years I have been with my boyfriend-turned-husband through a series of losses. It is now just my oldest brother and his wife and two kids, my three aunts, an uncle, four cousins and their spouses, four cousins once removed (my cousin’s kids,) and a few of my father’s cousins, and their kids-that-are-sort-of-like-cousins.
My Irish family is comprised of 8 siblings-in-law: 6 sisters-in-law and 2 brothers-in-law. I always wished for a sister. Now I have 6! Actually, I have even more than that, because the two brothers have wives, so that’s 8 Irish sisters-in-law (in addition to the incredible woman married to my brother.)
These women, my husband’s sisters and sisters-in-law, welcomed me into the family with such love and warmth. As did his brothers. And their 23 children! Yes, that’s right. There are 23 nieces and nephews. Add to that the children those nieces and nephews are now having. I think at this writing there are 17 grandnieces and nephews, and…wait for it…2 great-grandnieces! (We go over at least once a year for weddings!)
And that is just the immediate family. My husband and his siblings all have cousins who have spouses and they have children, and those children have children.)
I love my Irish family. I come from the midwest, from people who were of Protestant stock. My people are stoic, hold-your-cards-to-your-chest people. We get together in small batches of time. There is love, of course. But it’s, well, a bit more subdued. There’s not a lot of hugging. Storytelling and laughter, yes. Just in short spurts.
My Irish family? These people truly love being together. They gather for epic periods of time!
And any time they gather, it is certain that there will be the “sing-song” and “a bit of craic.” (Craic is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, by the way. Pronounced like “crack.”)
This entails each person taking attention to perform a song, or play an instrument (there’s alway one around it seems, spoons if nothing else.) Or recite a poem, in what they call recitations.
This reverence for the spoken or sung word goes way back in the Irish culture. It is truly important and meaningful part of their life. And the love of song! The stories told through song are passed from generation to generation. It seems a rite of passage for one of the “young ones” to start singing or reciting a “piece” that then becomes known as their “party piece.”
At first, these sessions (and they truly are sessions — they often last 10 or so hours, literally into the early morning) were totally overwhelming to me. In so many good ways. I was literally mesmerized by the love and the effusiveness. The laughter! My face and sides would ache.
Of course, I was asked to join in from my first trip there. You would think that as a singer and performer that it would come naturally to just jump in. But I was hesitant at first. What they do is different than get up and sing a song. They sing songs well known to the Irish people, and to their family in particular, and people join in and sing along with each others’ songs. And there is some drinking going on, too, which adds to the joviality of it all. They are usually singing a cappella, or without instrumentation. I mainly know American pop songs and show tunes and am used to singing crafted arrangements with piano accompaniment! I wasn’t sure how to fit what I do in with what I was seeing and experiencing.
When I finally did give in and join in, I was well-received for what I had to offer, and so now I have my own party pieces to do. I also think ahead for songs to do that everyone may know so they can join in. (It feels OK to sing one song that only I know – more of a performance – but it feels weird to me to do more than that.) It is more fun to have everyone singing along. I have taught a round to the group that they love to do (as loudly as possible!)
I have had to develop new muscles for the trips to Ireland for the weddings that bring us back each year. Not only stamina for the epic hours spent together into the wee hours of the morning, which can be additionally challenging while adjusting to the time change. But for the sheer volume of human interaction that occurs.
Being a mostly introvert person, I do love people, but I also need refill-the-well time. I love going deep in conversation; not so much the small talk. I have found my own way while over there. Fortunately, I can just sit and listen a lot. I can take little power naps if need be. No one judges. Being “the American” buys me some wiggle room: I am given some leeway.
But mainly, I just love every moment. I bask in the love and the music. I do my party piece and enjoy their appreciation of what I have to offer.
I am blessed with this extended Irish family. It has been the gift that keeps on giving, this marriage to my husband. I am surrounded by love that helps keep me from getting too blue over the key family members who are no longer here.
And I get to study with true masters the art of storytelling through song and spoken word. It just doesn’t get better than that!
Inspired by The Daily Post Daily Word Post: recite