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Irish? Me?

Mom always refused to admit we were Irish, though the evidence was pretty overwhelming. Our names, for example: she was a Cruise before she married a Dempsey, or an Ó Diomasaigh (pronunciation: Oh! DEMMA!-shay) as my father sometimes corrected her. His father was Paddy—single-handedly cut the Manchester ship canal, apparently. Had 14 kids. Got a medal from the Pope for services to the poor (though he WAS the poor). Mom disagreed with none of this, except the bit about Paddy being Irish. “Nope,” she said, “Ballinasloe, County Galway? Rubbish. He was from Sale Moor, Manchester.”

After a childhood in Catholic school, when I was in my late teens I discovered Irish music—my favorites were (still are!) Sharon Shannon and Kevin Burke and Patrick Street and Four Men and a Dog, all those pixilated jigs and reels that can make a dead man smile. I have instructed those that know me to play “The Parting Glass,” an Irish lament (as sung by The Voice Squad), at my funeral. (Maudlin, much?) Eventually, I set out for a visit to the place, and the first man I met, in a bar in Wexford, said to me, "arrryahavinafuckinpintorwhat?" I loved the country instantly; played music in pubs all night; took a boat to the Blasket Islands, off the west coast of County Clare—next parish America. Met the mother of my kids there. All the while, Mom saying, “we're not Irish.”

I moved to America and my first friends were Irish. I played traditional music in Ryan’s Irish Pub on Second Avenue, wishing I was back in Dingle. Bartenders with Irish accents took one look at me and started a Guinness. I never felt so Irish as when I was 3,500 miles away from England.

Mom maintained we were British—end of argument.

I was two days shy of my sixth birthday when the IRA bombed two pubs in Birmingham, where we then lived. Twenty-one people were killed, hundreds injured. In the days afterwards, people with Irish accents got arrested all over the city; people with Irish accents got slapped in the street; six guys with Irish accents were convicted, though they didn’t do it—for 16 years they maintained their innocence until they were finally freed. From the age of six I was told I wasn't Irish, despite being the result of a Cruise and an O’Diomasaigh.

Yesterday, I wasn't Irish either—in fact, this whole story has been a lie. The actual honest-to-dios truth is that my father’s name was Pedro Hernandez, my mother Maria Torres. One grew up in Barcelona, the other in Madrid. I learned to play the bagpipes in Galicia, on Spain’s northwest coast. (Some people think it sounds a bit like Celtic music.) We moved to England when I was in my teens, but I missed the sunny days so much! Nevertheless, I am imbued with a revolutionary zeal, a Basque hatred of the oppressor, rather like the Irish Catholics and their feelings towards the British. But enough of that! Yesterday was a wonderful day for me! To watch my team play with such freedom, such expression . . . but pity the poor Irish. How dreadful they truly were. Playing with fear, with rain in their blood, hoofing the ball away from danger only to see it come back in an instant. No imagination; no jigs, no reels, just a dirge for the death of football. Fill to them the parting glass!

 I felt bad for the Irish, though I am not one, you understand. I am Spanish! From Galicia, or somewhere. I forget.