Irish in a German City

Irish in a German City

In Northside, the Cincinnati neighborhood where I used to live, the Germans and Irish squabbled about everything. (I guess they didn’t know the same drinking songs.) They even fought over the Catholic parish. In the end, the archbishop decided by the toss of a coin: The Irish got the old church building, which they renamed St. Patrick, and the Germans had to build a new church, to be called St. Boniface. More than 150 years later, that newer church is the only parish church in the neighborhood.

Now Germans and Irish have mixed and mingled and intermarried. Most of the old antipathies are buried. Debates about whether the best beer comes from Dublin or Munich have disappeared. In fact, this German city boasts of having one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country. There’s no parade for St. Boniface, but many of the city’s premier cultural institutions such as Music Hall owe their founding and continuance to the Germans. On the surface the tension is gone.

My English name hides a number of different European roots (and a Native American great-great grandmother). But my dominant ethnic heritage is Irish (thanks to the Nolans, McCarthys and Corrigans).

Irish Pluses and Minuses

I’m grateful for my Irishness for many reasons, principally my love of words and humor. Even my emotions and temper can sometimes be seen as a gift—even though they can sometimes get me in trouble in this stoic German town.

I often answer a question with a whole story, and I confess that I sometimes embellish those stories. As someone once said of Irish stories, “If they’re not true, they ought to be.” One of my cousins, Gina, always told the best stories about where she had wandered off to at the state fair. Everyone said they wished they had tagged along with Gina, but her sister, Julie, who had accompanied her, admitted she did not even recognize where they had gone from Gina’s description.

What gets me in the most trouble is my emotional nature. I get passionate about ideas and my voice rises. In our office that’s considered bad form. In conversation, my enthusiasm can lead me to cut off people, for which I’m constantly apologizing.

I also organize oral presentations differently, neither building up to a point (à la Thomas Aquinas) nor putting that point first (inverted-pyramid news style). Instead, I go for the drama.

And then there’s my Irish temper, which is frequently so close to the surface it spills out—despite 55+ years of trying to tame it. The good thing is that the next day I usually can’t remember what I was mad about. I just hope my words were forgotten by those who heard them as well.

My point is to beg for tolerance and understanding. What’s learned at the family table surfaces in the boardroom. I have seen and traveled enough to appreciate different styles. My hunch is that ethnic inheritances are probably the biggest obstacle for diplomats. Let’s hear it for those who can see and hear what’s beneath the surface!

The Biggest Gift

But the Irish legacy for which I am most grateful is the Celtic spirituality I inherited. Spirituality is how we see and approach the divine, and what that vision impels us to do (our values).

An audiobook about Celtic spirituality by Esther de Waal, The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination (published by St. Anthony Messenger Press), explains that Celtic spirituality starts with the idea of God’s nearness. I’ve always found it more comforting to think of God as immanent (with us) rather than transcendent (above us), although I know God is both. One part of de Waal’s audiobook focuses on using nature to inspire our prayer, particularly prayers of praise.

No matter what ethnic legacy you claim, remember that there are many ways to be spiritual and to touch the divine. St. Patrick would be pleased that the Irish way attracts many people today.

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About the Author

Barbara Beckwith is the managing editor of "St. Anthony Messenger" magazine. A graduate of Marquette University’s College of Journalism, she is a former president of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and former vice president of the International Catholic Union of the Press.
  • Wbua

    Just what I needed,putting immanence of God into a more follow- through thought.Jolly good

    yours truly,Irishnessness

  • Sldigman

    LOVE this, Barbara!

  • Mike Leach

    Love this post! I’m an Irish Italian German Catholic from Chicago and after reading Barbara Beckwith it feels like we grew up in the same neighborhood. I identify with it completely! Thanks!