St. Patrick’s Day finds most of us rooting around in our closets for a green sweater to fulfill the ‘wearing of the green’ on a day that they say ‘everyone is a little bit Irish.’ For more and more people, it’s also about finding your roots, even right at the source in the Emerald Isle.
Tourism Ireland says there are 70 million people dispersed around the world who can claim Irish ancestry. In the US and Canada, it’s one of the top heritage nationalities. 1 in 10 Americans has Irish roots, and even more - 1 in 7 – Canadians. Do the math and it means about 35 million Americans and 5 million Canadians are at least a little bit Irish.
The population of Ireland itself is only about 5 million – so North American Irish outnumber the Irish in Ireland by about 8 to 1! That’s a lot of people who feel the call of their roots in Ireland.
Maybe you’re one of them, or think you are.
Your first big clue might be your last name. From Murphy, meaning ‘sea warrior’, O’Brien for the decendents of the famous, Viking-vanquishing King Brian Boru, O’Connor, indicating ‘lover of hounds’, Ryan, ‘little king’, or the oldest known Irish last name, O’Clery, dating all the way back to AD 916 and maybe even holding the distinction of being the earliest recorded surname in all of Europe, Irish surnames abound. Not to mention Kennedy, perhaps the most storied Irish family name in North America, and then there’s all the ‘Fitz’s, meaning ‘son of’, as in Fitzpatrick, Fitzsimmons…
If you’re lucky enough to have an Irish last name – or a grandparent with one – that will get you started on your Irish ancestry quest.
The good news is that, with 70 million people with Irish blood around the world, there are a lot of people who’ve laid a lot of ancestry sleuthing groundwork to help you.
Online databases can get you started. Tourism Ireland suggests, “A good starting point is the Irish Government website www.irishgenealogy.ie, which has records of births, baptisms, marriages and burials from a number of counties. The National Archives website contains early 20th-century census returns while www.rootsireland.ie has over 20 million records from the various county genealogy centres on the island of Ireland. Simply key in your name and the journey begins.”
You might be amazed at what you discover. Then there’s nothing like being ‘boots on the ground’ to unearth more information at the source, and to inhale your heritage with the air you breathe. Experts recommend in-person visits to Ireland’s National Library, National Archives and General Register Office in Dublin or, if your history points to Northern Ireland, visit the Public Records Office in Belfast.
If you already know the county in Ireland your ancestors hail from, you can narrow your search more, and many county genealogy centers have professional genealogists with local expertise.
And if you’re interested in your Irish family heritage but don’t have the time to do all the digging yourself, there is also the option to commission the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland to help. They’ll find not only your ancestors, but also living relatives.
Imagine walking in the footsteps of your forefathers and mothers in your ‘home’ county, seeing gravestones marked with the names that you may have known in your family for generations, and even getting to meet long lost cousins on distant shores your ancestors left over 150 years ago.
When you ‘come home’ to Ireland to rediscover your roots in the Emerald Isle, you find new memories for a lifetime, possibly new family, and certainly more meaning in the green shirt, pint of Guinness, and Irish music playlist you enjoy once a year on the day of the patron saint of Ireland.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Images courtesy Ireland.com
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