Ticking the boxes

Guinness_Storehouse_St._Patrick's_Day_signBeannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

St. Patrick’s day blessings to all my Irish friends – whatever fraction of green blood they may have in their veins. I would love to share in your celebrations – if you’ll have me…and if I know my Hibernian pals, I would be welcome.

The title of this post comes from my confusion when presented with those lists of ethnic background choices on forms and so forth. I genuinely don’t know what to put. If I can, I put other with an explanation.

I am adopted – and for a long time I had very little idea about my background. Logically anyone in the British Isles is likely to be of mixed heritage somewhere along the line. Like that mongrel of a language, English, we are the products of the intermarriage of settlers from all over.


It’s old news but a source of great delight: Carol Thatcher and Lord Tebbit both thought they were pure-blood English but DNA tests made them reassess their origins. Full Article here

I did have a few clues. The K. M. in my writing name comes from Katherine Mary – as nice an Irish Catholic name as you could wish for. I was born in Leeds ( much settled by the Irish diaspora)  – in a former workhouse – and so I concocted an unmarried mother story about my origins. Not true, as it turns out but I had hopes.


St Mary’s , Bramley

One possible surname (it’s complicated) was McClellan. It’s found in both Ireland and Scotland – but these are both Gaelic peoples. I have been so tempted to tick the White Irish box – not least because I love aspects of the culture so much.


Who would not be fascinated by illuminated Book of Kells, the illustrations and stained glass of Harry Clarke or the beautiful animations of The Song of the Sea?


The harshness of The Burren, the wonders of the Rock of Cashel and the Giant’s Causeway,  and the spirit of Glendalough all have their own delights. There are many more ‘thin places’ in Ireland where the saints and legends are beside you.


St. Kevin’s Church, with the Round Tower of Glendalough in the background


Such poetry – Seamus Heaney and W. B. Yeats – and for me, the disconcerting imaginations of Bram Stoker, Sheridan le Fanu and Lord Dunsany. Not to mention the astonishing breadth of the mythological and folk tales.



The Tain by Horslips was one of my most played LPs ( yes, I am that old). I can still sing Cuchulain’s Lament. Their version brings a tear to the eye as does Women of Ireland from Barry Lyndon (played by The Chieftains). I love John Field’s Nocturnes for their sensitivity and restraint – yet the sheer exuberance of Sharon Shannon was a pleasure at the Orkney Folk Festival 2015. It’s a broad church.



I saved the best to last.  The hospitality and kindness I have received from Irish people such as Sheena Wilkinson, Olivia Keirnan,  Cailín Jones and Malachy Doyle will always be treasured. The Irish I have come across have been literate, imaginative, passionately creative, warm-hearted and talkative. Why wouldn’t I want to claim kin?


Matthew’s Gospel, Book of Kells

One final happy thought: I went to the recent Celtic Exhibition at the British Museum. Imagine my joy at finding that being any form of Celt is far more a cultural construct than a genetic one. How very appropriate – a distinct identity which won’t stay in the box.

St Patrick's Day Card

Which tribes would you love to belong to?



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