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MARCH 17, 2012 4:58PM

It was a long time before I knew about "the Troubles".

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I grew up on the south side, in a suburb of Chicago. I was actually born in Indiana but moved to our small Dutch heritage town for my formative years. We lived two blocks from the Catholic church which we attended and its attached grade school which we also attended. I wore a uniform for many years and while I cannot say I am a Catholic today, I grew up in a Catholic heritage. My sister and I were not really accepted that easily into the neighborhood and school. Our older siblings were in the nearby public high school and far removed from the Catholic way of teaching, having put their time in, in Indiana.

I don't know why but our parents had plopped us smack into an Irish Catholic neighborhood. I think they liked the houses and ours was built to suit. We had one of the smallest families. Not every other family was Irish, there were plenty of other "outsiders" but we were school age and while everyone was mostly kind, we knew we were different, either we were or they were.

The big families seemed to always stick together and rarely let anyone in to their inner circles. We did have block parties in the early days and my parents were a bit older and unaccustomed to this party style.

I remember one party all the women put their shoes in a big pile and  and all the men chose a shoe and the owner, whoever the lady was, danced with the man. 

The whole area had been an immigrant truck farm work area in the late 1800's. People came from Indiana to work the truck farms and some of those people were my heritage, Hungarian. (Austro Hungarian Empire) I think that is why my father knew of this place, now with burgeoning suburban growth and new homes at a fair price. That is probably how we ended up there.

We all managed to get along, but the kids from the really big families lived and played a bit different from us. We read books, played the organ and piano, and traveled with our parents, among other things. They played Kick the Can and Red Rover, which was a lot of fun when they let us join in. The kids across the street, there were 14 of them, had a dad who was a union worker. He brought home a stove box filled with shoes once, and that is where the kids found what fit them. Their house was neat and clean and their furniture was always someone else's cast off, always tasteful and like new. I remember one Sunday they were cooking up some food and somehow I was there with them. I was allowed one sausage, they shared what they had.

When I think of about that family now I understand so much more. I understand how it got so big. At the time, with so many family in that neighborhood of big numbers, I thought there was something really different that we did not have so many kids. In fact, I petitioned my mother for a little brother, but she did not comply. Sad as that was, I understood so much more later. With literally 100 kids in a one block area, and a church and school so close you could throw a snowball and hit a nun, my life was a Catholic life.

Interesting, we always had houseguests, and there were two English girls that particularly stand out. They were friends for many years, each having a different stretch with our family for many years. They were work friends of my oldest sister. They came to us for holidays. First it was Brenda for about ten years or so and then Joan for about the same number when Brenda married and moved out of state.

I used to love to hear stories about WWII and the bombing of London from Brenda. One was about how she got a lone jingle bell stuck in her nose as a little girl during the Blitz. Her grandfather wheeled her through the darkened bombed out streets to the nearest hospital to get it pulled out. Can you imagine?

I, being an avid reader, and a lover of castles, Brenda once bought me a book all about them. It was a kind of research book and very adult, even as I got older I found it difficult to read, but as I aged I appreciated it more and more. There were so many in ruins.

Rocket forward to my wedding. Our rehearsal dinner was at a place called Hackney's. These places are all Irish motif and the food is a variety but they are mostly known for their hamburgers. There are several in the Chicago area. Inside they usually have something to honor the Irish fighters of the time of  Irish Civil War the beginning of "the Troubles".

Rocket forward again to my time where I live now. When I worked as Director of Development for a non profit that served developmentally disabled children, I used to eat out sometimes when I had a long night of event or board meeting ahead of me. I liked to go to a place call the Claddagh because it was very much constructed like an old Irish pub. There were a few of these pubs around and I liked the separate rooms they had where you could sit with just a few people around and it would be sometimes filled with books. I would ask the waitress to bring me something to have a look at while I ate as I would be alone. Once she brought a book on castles of Ireland. Mostly pictures, with bits of history about each place.

It was there I learned about why so many were in ruins.

They had been burned long before "the Troubles" but during the Irish Civil War most likely or before that even. Many homes were destroyed by the British at that time and the Irish Republican Army burned the castles of those given land and title by the British for voting and acting on their behalf; sometimes long before and during the struggle for Irish independence.

I grew up with kids whose kids later did a lot of Irish Dancing.  I was told the reason Irish dancers do not move from the waist up. I was told that they were forbidden to dance by the British and when they came by the roads, they stood behind their halved open cottage doors  and windows dancing in defiance from the waist down where they would not be seen. While that story has been going around for years, it turns out to be a legend. 

As a person who was always interested in WWII, it took me a while to understand why the Irish might have helped some of the Germans with spying and such. Some recognized the English as their enemy.

Going through my life with reddish blond hair that turned dark auburn, milk white skin and green eyes, with a name like Sheila, I could always understand why people would mistake me for being Irish.  As years have passed, I have taken the time to reflect on so many of the things that I did not know, that we were not taught in history classes. How selective our history learning and sharing has really been! I think I might have understood more about the neighbor kids if I had know more about them as Irish Americans. I know about "the Troubles" now, but certainly not enough. 

I will have the opportunity to learn more I think. My son is in love with an Irish - German American girl.  She is the second generation as I am of my family. She has red hair, milk white skin and green eyes. Her mother shares my name. She is a gift.  Her beloved grandfather was from Sligo, Ireland.

 May we always be open to understanding and learn the history we have not been taught. 


 Timeline of the Troubles can be found here:

 A link about Sligo:



  • Knocknarea mountain is 6 km west of Sligo on the Cuil Irra peninsula. It is just over 300m and can be climbed in 20 to 40 minutes. The summit offers a magnificent panorama of the indented coast and holds a massive cairn, which is reputed to be the grave of the ancient Celtic warrior Queen Maedbh (pronounced May-v). the cairn is estimated to weigh 40,000 tons; it has never been excavated. 
An old local tradition has it that a climber should bring a stone from the bottom of the mountain and place it on the cairn on the top. Failure to do so, according to the legend, will result in your dreams being haunted by the Queen Maeve herself!


Copyright 2012 by SheilaTGTG55 

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A little bit of Irish for you to help you celebrate a people.
Love your new avatar. Great story, I grew up Catholic too because of an Irish grandmother who insisted. She was born in Ireland and I am sure contributed to my fair skin and freckles and lots of other things.
rated with love
Romantic: Thanks! The heritage of being raised Catholic is strong. The problem is not many people who were raised this way actually follow the teachings of Rome, ha, even St. Patrick, a Scotsman did not. I want to go to Ireland and see it. Sligo seems a great choice.
Excellent post... never understood what my Irish was until I worked for an Irishman... used to frustrate me so much I wanted to grab him by the collar and throw him through the office window...
I did not know some of this.
"I was told that they were forbidden to dance by the British and when they came by the roads, they stood behind their halved open cottage doors and windows dancing in defiance from the waist down where they would not be seen"

I would love to believe that was fact.
Erin Go Braugh to you Sheila
I too grew up in an Irish Neighborhood. Find the Irish and this post very interesting. Hope your son continues to be in love with this woman whose mother shares your name.
I usually stray away from history but how you wrote this kept me reading all the way through. Your right if history was taught, really taught maybe I would have been more interested in learning the truth.
You tell a tale well, lass, even if you aren't Irish!
jmac: Thanks for reading. I appreciate what you are saying.

Linda: I know what you mean. I thought it was true for years. Thanks for visiting!

fernsy: They are both very young, but you never know, this could be it. Thanks for the visit!

Lunchlady: Great to see you here and glad you enjoyed the read!

toritto: Yes, I believe we are! I did make a lovely corned beef and cabbage for dinner, the boys came home and the lovely girlfriend made homemade soda bread.

Frosty: Good to see here! It is a good day to share the very best in humanity, good food, kind words and friendship.
Irish or not that combination of facial features always draws one attention. That mountain sounds like a nice climb too. Wish i was there with you right now!
.........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx & Smiles (ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥
As a huge fan of Riverdance, I, too would love to believe the legend about why the Irish dance that way. As a student, I wasn't fond of history at all, but from where I sit now, I realize just how much very important stuff was left out of my education. I am having fun catching up now that I am in my 60s and retired. :D

Algis: Thanks for visiting. I am very fond of mountains too! I would love to visit it.
"May we always be open to understanding and learn the history we have not been taught"

Here! Here!

I grew up being very trusting in the version of history being taught. It was only in adulthood that I have/am learning the full and "true" histories of the world.
Painting the Stars: Yes, older people are wiser people for a number of reasons! Most of the time anyway. They are the truth seekers, the ones who begin to see through the maze of many things and see things more clearly, including history.
Sheila this is among the most instructive posts I have seen here. Thank you.

Jon: Always good to hear from you. Thank you!
I so enjoyed reading this, Sheila, thanks for sharing this.
I found myself thinking of your coloring...that does bring to mind Irish much more that Hungarian. : )
My mother is Czech/German with the dark hair and eyes, while I have the same coloring as you: pale skin, reddish hair growing up, reddish brown as adult (until I went white sometimes white, sometimes blonde : )), hazel eyes.
No one believed we were related at all in our entirely Scots-Irish-English neighborhood.
I'd not heard that old saying about the stones and cairns...I'll have to take up a stone next time I hike up a mountain around here : )
...and congrats on the lovely sounding Son's girlfriend...
Just Thinking: Amazing how the coloring is so different in some families! Thanks for visiting!
Thank you for pointing this out,Sheila.
Ireland has a very sad history,partly because of the suppression by the British.
I find these people fascinating.They have never lost their joyful nature.
Frank O'Connor is a famous writer with a lot of humour.
I just love their dances.
...and a lot more...

sorry about the tipo.It happened due to a jumping writing box.
Heidi: Thank you for the visit. I always appreciated them since I was a little girl and read a book called "The Fighting Prince of Donegal."
Is the book still available?

It is an out of print book published by Scholastic for young people from around 1966. There was a Disney movie of the same name.
I love everything Irish. Have visited several times. Your story is filled with wonderful images. About to make some Irish vegetable soup for my husband. My favorite writers are from the Blasket Islands. To me they were sublime. Thank you for reaching out to me. Good to know you.
I love everything Irish. Have visited several times. Your story is filled with wonderful images. About to make some Irish vegetable soup for my husband. My favorite writers are from the Blasket Islands. To me they were sublime. Thank you for reaching out to me. Good to know you.
Ande: Thanks for your visit here. I enjoy your writing!
Our family is all of Irish heritage (don't know about me...I'm adopted...but I look the most Irish of anyone), and yet there is no history going back there, nor was there any sense of homeland from my relatives. So I appreciate you sharing your experiences. I wonder more than ever how my Irish family ended up here.
Bellwether: We have been working on ancestry to trace our relatives. My husband is really interested in this kind of stuff. So far it has been productive. Last year when we visited my son in Germany, we got to travel to areas when his family actually once lived. My grandfather, who I am really interested in finding out more about has proven to be a difficult one to trace.

I would say if you are interested go for it, get an ancestry account. You might be able to find a lot out about your adoptive family. If you records can be opened, you might be able to find a lot out about your own birth parents too. It is a journey. My husband has gone back to the 1700s. Interesting stuff.