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Katie van Schaijik

The curse and the gift of being Irish

Jan. 29, 2010, at 3:05pm

Lately I have found myself apologizing rather frequently to my children for the morbidities of the Irish-American heritage I have bequeathed to them from my line: the Jansenist-inspired heavy-handed moralizing tendency, the guilt and inferiority complexes, the insecurities, the second-guessing of self, the irrational fear of failure, the affective autism, and so on. The heritage on their father’s side seems so blessedly sound and uncomplicated in comparison. The Dutch generally are marvelously at ease with themselves and the world. They are even-tempered, steady, cheerful, imperturbable, outward-oriented, and unreflective. They are comfortable in their skins—patiently and good-humoredly accepting of their own short-comings and those of others.
In my sickliest moments, I am severely tempted to hate and resent being Irish, and to wish I were something else.
This morning I have found in Kierkegaard a thought that helps me recover perspective. It’s taken from his copious Journals and Papers. (I got it from the Ferreira book mentioned above and below.) He writes of what he thinks Martin Luther got right. (Kierkegaard was a Lutheran with many criticisms of the Protestant Christendom of his day.)

What Luther says is excellent, the one thing needful and the sole explanation—that this whole doctrine )of the Atonement and in the main all Christianity) must be traced back to the struggle of the anguished conscience. Remove the anguished conscience, and you may as well close the churches and convert them into dance halls… An atonement is necessary only in the understanding of anguished conscience. If a man had the power to live without needing to eat, how could he understand the necessity of eating—something the hungry man easily understands. It is the same in the life the spirit.

When I consider that as a matter of fact many Dutch churches have been converted into dance halls or pottery studios or worse, I am grateful for the Irish talent for imparting anguish of conscience to her children. It is a gift. It leads us to God.


Bob Lynn • Feb 14, 2010 - 9:23 pm

I enjoyed this post very much.  I think they’re a whole area of ethnic conscious writing and spiritual work to be done for the Irish in America.

All of the Irish politicians, novelists, editorialists, comedians and lest we forget step-dancers offer rich subject matter for study and discussion.

Let’s get to work—no excuses!

Scott Johnston • Mar 1, 2010 - 4:36 pm

Well, aside from the more negative aspects of the Irish American psyche, I love the gift to our culture of Irish folk music! (And Guinness!), and the exquisite and unique visual expression of faith seen in Celtic manuscript illumination (the Book of Kells being the pinnacle)! And I love Irish dancing too!

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