Tag Archives: irish american

Corning of The Beef and St. Patrick’s Day – Irish American Tradition

Context: The following piece was collected during a casual interview in the informant’s home. 

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant. She learned the tradition from her parents, who partook in it with numerous other Irish-American families who also lived in Bridgeport, CT. 

Piece: 

Collector: So who corns the beef?

Informant:Whoever’s house it was got the meat and they put it in the pot and then somebody else poured in the water and then somebody else put in, like a couple of people would put in the different spices. So it was a group activity if you will, they kind of all … um joined in. Obviously there weren’t jobs for every adult but everybody was there.

Collector: Where do you put it after you season it?

Informant: Okay, you take the meat and you have this huge pot looking thing in a wooden box almost with these long handles so that the men could carry it because it was very heavy. And you would put it either in your basement, um or somewhere cool and dark because it was in Connecticut so at that time of the year it would be cool enough. So one year when we had it at our house we put it in the garage and covered it um because we didn’t have windows on our garage doors. 

Collector: What day would you put it in there?

Informant: Always on um Ash Wednesday. And then on Saint Patrick’s Day whoever had the meat at their house, they held the party. And they always like set these incredible tables up with all sorts of decorations and party favors.

Collector: Like what, for example?

Informant: Party favors could be the candy coins. They would make pots of gold to put on the table and use the candy coins. Sometimes they made little leprechauns out of um pipe cleaners and sticks and stuff. 

Analysis: I really enjoyed hearing this piece from my mother, as she reminisced about her childhood and the strong tradition that was upheld by her family and numerous Irish-American families in her neighborhood. Irish immigrants, like many other immigrant groups, were subject to negative stereotypes upon arrival to the States. In ritualizing the preparation and consumption of corned beef, a distinctly Irish-American dish, the participants forge pride in their community. The fact that the process begins on Ash Wednesday, a holy day observed in multiple Christian traditions, highlights the shared religious identity of this group as well. All of the families who participated in the tradition were Catholic, a religious identity that is often understood in Ireland as a nationalist political identity as well. The “party favors” on the table suggest touristic representations of Ireland, an idealized and even romanticized conception of the Motherland. Ultimately, the tradition represents the generation of a hybrid, even liminal culture that is neither wholly Irish nor wholly American.

Irish American Wedding Tradition – The Claddagh Ring

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant from Bridgeport, CT. She learned the tradition from her parents and observed it multiple times at her four brother’s weddings. 

Context: The piece was collected in a casual, in person interview, inside the informant’s home. 

Piece:

The following is a summary of the conversation, rather than a transcription for the sake of brevity and clarity. 

The informant discussed a modification to traditional American wedding ceremonies and the exchange of wedding rings that is practice among some Irish-American groups. Whereas the traditional American ceremonies involve the couple exchanging wedding rings after they profess their vows, in my the informant’s family and community, the bride and groom exchange both wedding rings and Claddagh rings following the exchange of vows. The Claddagh ring is an Irish ring that features two hands holding a heart between them with a crown atop the heart. The wedding ring goes on the left ring finger and the Claddagh ring goes one the right ring finger with the heart pointing toward the individual wearing the ring. The informant relayed that there are multiple interpretations of the symbolism of the Claddagh ring, but that she was taught that, “it’s the hand of Mary and the hand of Joseph holding the heart of Jesus, but a lot people believe it’s Love, Faith, and Hope.” 

Analysis: The practice seems to be a way of integrating Irish heritage into the American wedding ceremony through jewelry. The Claddagh ring has been an important symbol in my family as a celebration of both our Irish heritage and Catholic faith, although I do not believe that the ring is not necessarily widely interpreted as a Catholic symbol. I was surprised to hear that the ring was worn on the right hand of the individuals because I was taught while in Ireland that one wears it on the left hand when married. I was also taught that if one wears the ring with the heart facing outwards on the right ring finger, it signifies that the person is single, whereas pointed in on the right ring finger indicates that the person is currently in a relationship. Similarly, if worn on the left ring finger with the heart pointing outward, the ring indicates that the individual is engaged, whereas pointed in on the left ring finger signifies that one is married. I have worn a Claddagh ring for just over two years that is inscribed with the words, “Faith, Love, and Friendship,” indicating yet another potential interpretation of the symbolism around the ring. It is important to note each interpretation I have heard of, interprets the two hands and heart as a trinity of either virtue or faith.