Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick and the Irish Porters

Here we are on St. Patrick’s day. My father was fond of telling me that our family came from Ireland, and so it did. But the family is not what most people think of as Irish. Our family was a family of Scots whom the King of England had moved to Ireland to try to Anglicize it back in the 15- 1600s. My estimate is that my family was in Ireland for less than 100 years before they moved onto what I’m sure they thought were greener pastures in the United States. In other words, my color on St. Patrick’s Day should be Orange, the color of the Northern Irish and their great benefactor, William of Orange.


As I have been unable to find my family name among the great landholders from Scotland who took away Irish property, the odds are good that they came along, with their fellow plebes and laborers, with one of the families that received the large land grants. There was a Porter, one of my direct ancestors, at the siege of Derry, later Londonderry, and it was either he, but more likely his son, who hopped a boat for Pennsylvania. Incomplete records on the internet indicate that the fellow who left Ireland was in some type of trouble and had to, more or less, sneak out. This would coincide with a lot of things that I know about my family.


Once here in the United States, the family made its way down to North Carolina, apparently to take advantage of some land which Indians had just been run off of. The individual who made that trek ended up in some trouble and partial records show that his son served a term in jail for him (there’s a civilized practice that is not allowed anymore). From North Carolina, the clan moved onto Tennesse,once again taking up acreage recently occupied by the native inhabitants. The pattern continued into Alabama, the United States Army having liberated some Indians from land down there. As near as I can tell, the first Porter to live on land that he actually had a right (of some kind) to was my Great Great Grandfather who pulled up stakes from Alabama and moved to Texas during the days of the Rebublic.Up until then, by my calculations, Porters had been living off of stolen land, more or less continuously, for at least 250 years, on two different continents, and despite this low overhead, had  still been unable to make anything of themselves.


Things got better once we made it to Texas, the traditional escape venue for debtors and ne’r do wells. Most of us have hung around these parts now for almost exactly 165 years. The longest we have ever stayed in one place since we were in the lowlands of Scotland, which, at the time, was the poorest and most ignorant country in all of Europe. Its agriculture at least a century behind most everyone else. Although they had managed to stumble on a wonderful distilling process for the production of whisky, and that says an awful lot which is positive about a race, no matter how stupid they were.


But it is the Irish, not the Scotch, who have the romance. I even prefer Irish Whiskey to Scotch Whisky and I certainly prefer Corn beef and Cabbage to a big bowl of Thistles. So on this day, I try to pass. After all, my family did come directly from Ireland. It seems to me that I have as much right to celebrate the feast of St. Patrick as anyone else. So I plan on leaving work a “wee bit” early, and having a glass of Jameson’s to toast the ancient saint, whom legend says Christianized the Irish, and drove all of the snakes out of the country as a kind of a bonus. Maybe my family did not come over during the potato famine or suffer the hardship of immediate impressment into the Union Army once they stepped off of the boat but I  like to think that we are as good as those who did. We too should be able to join the great Irish toast of this day and any other day, “Top of the Mornin’ to You”. And to all my friends and brother Irish on this day, Nar lagai Dia do lamh, at least while you are holding a glass of whiskey.


Blogger Jannie Funster said...

I agree on the Irish whisky vs: Scotch.

I wonder what your ancestors were porting, as I assume the surname is derived from an occupation.

9:59 PM  

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