With only a few more days to go before St. Patrick’s Day, 2011 is upon us, the countdown clocks in Irish bars, pubs in a box and plastic Paddy bars are working overtime. A few more days and the Irish and those with the “Irish” in’em will be joining the throngs of green-clad people headed to lift a few pints to the man who drove not only the snakes out of Ireland, but I understand, the moles as well.
While very proud of my Scottish background and culture, I am also half-Irish (fourth generation Cape Breton Irish). My great grandfather Denis McGarry was trying to make it home to Dublin back in the late 19th century (and get away from all those Gaelic speaking Scots in Cape Breton) when it stumbled across Margaree,
Cape Breton – an enclave of Irishness in a sea of Highland clans, plaid and Gaelic. I suspect he landed in Margaree in either the summer or fall. A more beautiful location is hard to find. The lush Margaree Valley is framed by hills of maple and birch, sloping down through green pastures to the Margaree River which flows gently from Lake Ainslie to Margaree Harbour. My ancestors fill both the history of this community and now the cemetery of St. Patrick’s Parish of North East Margaree. The McGarry boys (MLA Dr. Moses, Michael, whom I’m named after and my grandfather Dr. Patrick) were Harvard graduates who never forgot where they were from. As they settled and married in Harvard Lake (now Lake O’Law), their family grew to include the Doyles, Coady’s and Tompkins – names that built a community in the 19th century and continue to maintain that community today. The small provincial park at Lake O’Law is our former McGarry land, handed to the province by my mother. Unfortunately, the North East Margaree McGarry’s are gone now. All that’s left are their aging gravestones – a testament to my large Irish family who left their mark as medical doctors and politicians on the province of Nova Scotia. (My great uncle Dr. Moses Elijah McGarry stepped aside from his seat in Parliament to allow former Deputy Prime Minister Allan J. MacEachen to run for office.) Growing up in Antigonish, it was a bit tough to flout your Irishness. The town is fairly hardcore Highland Scottish, and proud of it. However, we grew up on a street with Tompkins and O’Leary’s. And my mother Marie McGarry was not ashamed of her Irish background one bit. We all wore green to school on St. Patrick’s Day and friends would drop in with little presents for my mother on that special day. It was also the unofficial beginning of spring in Nova Scotia. The sun seemed to shine a bit brighter and when it did, the mounds of white snows would begin to whither. St. Patrick was no longer leading the snakes from the land – he was leading the harsh winter into a season of hope and promise. And that`s something worth having a drink over.
I`ll be mixing up my heritage on St. Patrick`s Day this year in Vancouver. This McGarry boy will be playing the Scottish bagpipes at the Atlantic Trap and Gill on Thursday night after work with friends. And in my heart, and on my sleeve, I will be Irish. And proud of it.