Tag Archives: Heritage


We’re coming up on American Independence Day and the stars and stripes are already in full force, decorating yards and businesses in preparation of the picnics and retail sales events to come.

I don’t really do flags.

Oh sure, I enjoy seeing them go up during the Olympics, accompanied by their associated national anthems.  But in recent years, I’ve become less concerned with which flag was making that ritual ascent.  The Games provide me an opportunity to learn about the symbolism of other nations, to hear the strains of music that fill them with national pride.

But I am not, myself, emotionally moved by these displays.

Old Glory

UnitedStatesFlagWhen I was in High School, there were a couple years that I was responsible for raising the flag in the mornings and pulling it down again at the end of the school day.

This started out as a punishment.

I was stuck in detention for a week, due to an offense I have long forgotten, and as a result, I found myself doing my work at a desk in the back corner of the Principals office.  And it wasn’t a bad deal.  Mr. Walker was a kindly old fellow, filled with good stories, and his secretary kept me well supplied with snacks throughout the week.

Without the distraction of my fellow students, the schoolwork went more quickly, and so my extra time was filled with various duties around the campus.  One of which, was the raising and lowering of the flag, which I did with special attention to all the little customs that go along with the job.

I guess Mr. Walker noticed how careful I was to never let the flag touch the ground, and how I folded it the proper way before stowing upon the shelf in his office where it spent the night, because when my sentence was done, he asked me if I’d be willing to keep the job.

I was happy to do it.

But it was never about the flag.  It was the ritual of it that appealed to me, even then.

I won’t pledge allegiance to it.  Not until the words “Under God” are stricken from the oath.  I find it reprehensible that small children, far too young to know the import of their words, are coaxed into daily submission to something they cannot understand.

In total honesty, I doubt I would speak the pledge, even if the wording officially reverted back to the more constitutionally sound, pre-1950’s version.  The American Flag has been used as blanket to cover too many crimes and atrocities.  I see the ideals for which it stands, yes, but not without the blemish.  There are too many stains in the fabric for me to treat it with the holy reverence that so many others seem to show.

Now, before you question my patriotism, I’d ask you to just run a copy of the Bill of Rights up that flag pole.  I’ll put my hand over my heart and demonstrate for you all the pride and reverence you could hope for.

A flag is a symbol, and symbols may be misused.  The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are a promise worth far more than a few colored strips of cloth.

The Stars and Bars

BattleFlagYes, I know.

I’ve heard the excuses all of my life.

It was never the flag of the Confederacy.  It’s a symbol of pride in our southern heritage, not a symbol of hate or racism.  The American Civil War was never about slavery, it was about states rights.

I’ve heard the excuses, and every one of them is true.

But here is another truth.  The culture of the South, with all of its celebrated gentility and plain-spoken charm, was built on the backs of people who were traded and bred and worked in the fields like animals.  Whatever the legal or political arguments may have been for the autonomy of individual states within the Union, the single issue important enough to drive those states to succession, was the right of one man to own another.

However you might want to spin the facts, the reality of the situation is that the armies who marched under this banner were fighting and dying to preserve a way of life founded at the expense of human dignity.

I do not curse the men.  Throughout history, many good men have been swept into wars with which they may not have agreed, if only to protect their homes and family.  These brave soldiers should be remembered and celebrated because they fought with courage, and because the blood of their sacrifice opened a door to freedom that had not existed before.

I’ll honor the men, but not the Cause.

The Confederate States of America were defeated, and they deserved to be defeated.

A symbol of southern heritage, to be remembered not with pride and pomp, but with sombre reflection.

That flag is dripping in blood, some of it very fresh, because there are still those among us who would turn back the clock.  And to them I say, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Rainbow Pride

GayPrideRainbowI will say, it was awesome to see so many people waving this flag in front of the Supreme Court building on Friday.  And then throughout the country in the days that followed.

Admittedly, as flags go, it’s a tad garish for my personal taste, but its bright colors certainly fit the joy attendant with the occasion.  Indeed, I joined many of my friends – most of them heterosexual – in decorating my Facebook profile picture with a rainbow overlay – in support and solidarity with our homosexual friends and family members who have finally gained a legal recognition so long denied them.

In an amusing twist, I’ve seen a very small number of people complaining that the rainbow symbol has been subverted by the Gay Community, because according to the Bible, the rainbow marks the promise from their god that he will never destroy the world again by water.

Ummmm…., yeah.

A rainbow is created by the refraction of light through the natural prism of a rain shower.  Symbolically, it is much better suited as a emblem of diversity, than as a reminder that the Hebrew god is said to have felt bad after drowning millions of innocent animals in a world-wide temper tantrum.

So no, you can’t have your symbol back.

The International Flag of the Planet Earth

PlanetEarthFlagI first started hearing about this one a couple weeks ago.

Seems there was a bit of controversy surrounding the suggestion that when men land on the Planet Mars (sometime next decade, I’m not holding my breath) they will plant this flag, instead of the American flag.

I really don’t see the fuss.

I mean, given current funding levels, and a general distaste for science among a frightfully large segment of our legislature, it seems quite likely that any manned mission to Mars will be somewhat of an international effort anyway.  This assuming it’s not an entirely corporate venture, complete with spacecraft riddled with more corporate logos than a NASCAR vehicle.

As flags go, it’s a pretty nice design.

The rings have an olympic quality to them, but the arrangement reminds me of a Celtic Knotwork pattern.  It speaks of diversity and unity, of one place with multiple truths.

These are ideas I can get behind.

We’ve got to set aside this notion that we can claim a place just because we stuck a flag in the ground there.  That kind of thinking has caused us a lot of misery in the past.

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Filed under Culture, Holidays, Modern Life

A Curious Absence of Saints

I have wandered the hills and valleys of Ireland, driven along its rocky coasts and roamed the quiet midlands.  In my travels, I have stopped to explore every monument of stone and ruined churchyard to be found along my path, often altering that path considerably in the hope of encountering some new mystery to explore.

Along the way, I have taken several thousands of pictures.

While I am careful that the photography not intrude upon my more visceral experience of a place, I strive to document each location to the best of my ability.  The photos are touchstones, reminders of places I fear I may never see again.  And in that spirit I try to be as thorough and faithful to the place and time as possible.

I was therefore, quite surprised to learn, as I went scanning through my photos just the other day, that my collection suffered from a curious absence of saints.

Saint Patrick?Saint Patrick, in particular, was nowhere to be found.

I only went looking because I noticed that my next blog post, the one you are reading now, was due to publish on March 17th, and it occurred to me that I really should write something about St. Patrick’s Day.

Not feeling particularly motivated, I thought I would dig up some of the photos I’d taken of his various statues in Ireland, and use those for inspiration.

Click…click…click…scroll…scroll…scroll…, nothing!

I sat back from my screen, perplexed.  That couldn’t be right.  I mean, I know for a fact that there is a statue of St. Patrick standing near the entrance to the Hill of Tara.  I’d photographed every inch of that ancient seat of kings, as well as the little churchyard that sits next to it, during my first visit in 2005.  I remembered walking past that stark white statue with the little metal fence around it, not once, but twice!

And so I checked again: hills, grass, tower, graves, passage tomb, sheep, standing stone, circling ravens…, no statue.

Church at Tara

Okay, so then where else?  I searched my memory for other encounters with Ireland’s patron saint…, a-ha!  there was Saint Patrick’s Cross which stands among the mighty ruins on the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.  Surely I had a photo of that, and even if it’s not really a statue, it would give me something to work with…,

Scroll…scroll…scroll…, nothing.

View from Rock of Cashel

“How,” I wondered aloud to myself, “can this be.”

I tried to think back to all the other cathedrals, graveyards and ruins that I have visited.  Surely there had to be…, I know that one had a statue…, Maybe there was a plaque…,


The Rock of Cashel

There are no monuments to Saint Patrick, no statues or shrines, recorded anywhere in my camera-rolls.  And I think the reason for this must be because I just don’t see him.

I’ve heard his story again and again, since childhood, but it has never really made any lasting impression upon me.  

I was taught that I should like St. Patrick because he was ‘the’ Irish saint.

But was he, really?

There is nothing in the mythology surrounding Pádraig that touches me or even rings true to my ears.

I have tried to see the young man, captured, bound and sold into slavery, only to give himself over to Christianity and escape his captors, led across the wilds of Ireland and back to the sea by a mysterious voice.  Yet it seems as if I have heard that story before, attached to other names and places.

And then there is the great teacher, who is said to have stood upon the Hill of Tara among both the greatest kings and wisest Druids of that land, and explained to them the mystery of the Christian Trinity through the example of the wild shamrock which grew unnoticed underfoot.  Strange, that they should be so easily won over, these wise men, when triplicate gods and goddesses were already known throughout the land, and the shamrock already known for both its symbolic and medicinal qualities.

Then, of course, there is the mighty “warrior for god” who appears in the later tales.  No meek teacher this Patrick, he duels his enemies with holy magic, tossing them into the air like some midichlorian pumped Jedi Knight.  

Let’s not even mention the thing with the snakes.

Over the years I have seen him first as a saint, then as a villain, and now he hardly seems important at all.  From what little we truly do know of him, it seems clear that almost nothing which has been believed about him is true.

So why then, should we celebrate the anniversary of his death (if indeed we even have that detail correct)?

More than once, I have been told that celebrating Patrick’s Holy Day is an important part of my Irish heritage, and that, as a grandchild of the diaspora, I should do whatever I can to maintain those cultural links with my distant kin.

How much honor do I bring to my ancestors by pretending to celebrate a Catholic feast day?  None, I think.

The truth is, I don’t need Saint Patrick, whoever he was, to help me celebrate my Irish heritage.  I do that every day.

I think I’ll get by just fine without the silly parades and the mass inebriation, which have become the American standard in holiday celebrations.

Yeah, I’ll wear the green – but I do that once a week (at least) anyway.  I like green.

And you can be sure that I’ll raise a glass, to you and to yours, and to bridging the miles that lie between myself and the one place I’ve ever known that truly feels like home.

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Filed under About this Blog, Holidays, Ireland, Photography, Religion, Spiritual Journey, Traditions, Travel

Leprechaun Elvis

I was finishing up my last couple hours of work this last Friday, already mentally checked out and embarking on a rare weekend off, when one of my fellow employees dropped this particular nugget of wisdom…,

“There are no African Americans in this country, except for those who have come here and earned their citizenship within their lifetime.”

So I let him stand there for a moment, all proud of himself, and then I asked, “so, you are also saying that there are no Mexican Americans, or Chinese Americans, or Irish Americans?”

His answer: “Yeah, if they’ve been here for a hundred years, then no.”

Huh, I guess the next time I visit San Francisco, I’ll swing by Chinatown and let them know.  They are all just Americans, the same as everyone else, and it’s about time they started acting like it.


I remember being taught about our national heritage in grade school.

We learned how all those varied heritages — African and Middle Eastern, Asian and Slavic, Irish and German — they were merely ingredients for the great “Melting Pot”, the goal of which, as far as I could tell, was to distill away everything that was special and unique about them until all that was left was ‘American Culture’.

Or, as I would argue it, ‘until nothing was left at all’.

And the old “Melting Pot” has been very successful in its work.  So many people in this country seem to have no greater connection to their ancestors than the seemingly arbitrary arrangement of letters that make up their last name.

And yet, for all that, my pontificating young associate is as wrong as he could be.

I spent most of this Saturday among fellow Irish Americans (and Scots and others besides) at the North Texas Irish Festival, held yearly in Dallas’ Fair Park.

Like many other ethnic communities in this nation, the survivors of the Celtic Diaspora have learned that in order to survive in the face of the accursed melting pot, you have got to market yourselves to the masses.

And so we have Leprechaun Elvis, ambassador of all things green and kitschy, and I don’t know what we would do without him.

And he's holding a hunk, a hunk of green-clad pup!

And he’s holding a hunk, a hunk of green-clad pup!

Some may choose to cringe at all the plastic bric-á-brac lining the shelves of a show like this, but to do so is to court disaster.  Interspersed among booth after booth of Guinness T-Shirts, are crafts people fighting to keep alive the arts of weaving, crochet lace making, ceramics, and weapon smithing.  Here and there you will find gathered those dedicated to the preservation of the Irish language, history, and mythology.  And it would be hard to overlook the musicians and dancers who flock to such an event, hoping to grow their audience, and the audience for Celtic music in general, beyond our own limited community.

The North Texas Irish Festival brings you only the best Celt-Inspired memorabilia and deep-fried everything.

The North Texas Irish Festival brings you only the best Celt-Inspired memorabilia and deep-fried everything.

This years theme was "Erin Go Bark" with special attention being paid to the many wonderful dog breeds of Ireland.  As always the North Caledonian Pipes and Drums (right) were on hand to keep things 'regimental'.

This years theme was “Erin Go Bark” with special attention being paid to the many wonderful dog breeds of Ireland. As always the North Caledonian Pipes and Drums (right) were on hand to keep things ‘regimental’.

Dozens of Celtic musical groups were on hand including one of my favorites 'The Town Pants', hailing from far Vancouver, Canada.

Dozens of Celtic musical groups were on hand including one of my favorites ‘The Town Pants’, bringing their own brand of ‘West Coast Celtic’ from far Vancouver, Canada.

And so I raise my glass…, ummm…, my plastic cup, and I salute you, Leprechaun Elvis.

May we meet again under sunny March skies!

No matter how great a time you are having, eventually you are still gonna be like this little guy - one tired pup.  Sláinte!

No matter how great a time you are having, or how awesome the company, eventually you are still gonna be like this little guy – one tired pup. Sláinte!

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Filed under Culture, Ireland, Modern Life, Photography