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April 11, 2011

Reflections on "Irishness" (w/ My Family History)

I just returned from Ireland. It was a good trip with lots of hard work. The video team (Debbie Beavers, Rick Simms, Tim Cox, and Steve Fralick) were great. Michael Kelley did a great job guiding the content. I came away thinking that shooting a curriculum was much more work than I expected and they worked very hard to make it work.

The Subversive Kingdom (book and accompanying Bible study) will be published this fall. I will share more about it in the coming months. We shot the video around Ireland and tied into themes of Kingdom (with a few castle references), Celtic Christianity, and missional communities (referring to Patrick, Iona, etc).

I mentioned my Irish roots a few times on Twitter and the obvious question is, "Is Stetzer an Irish name?"

Well, no. It's German. But, we were raised Irish Catholic on Long Island. My dad is ¾ Irish and ¼ German (hence the name) and his family is made up of O'Connells, McGlades, and Skinners.

But, the "Irishness" I knew came primarily from my mother's side. My grandfather, John was a big part in my life growing up. We grew up often on public assistance, and it was my grandfather who had a "good job" and would help out. For example, he paid my way to parochial school when I was having trouble in public school. And, he was Irish-- very Irish.

I don't relate as Irish like my family did. I am a Protestant, and my grandfather explains how his uncle (James Bannon) actually jumped off the boat to NYC when it got close to the shore because he was "on the list" of Irish separatists and would be arrested if he came through the port. He blamed the Protestants.

My maternal great-grandmother Anastasia Halligan came from Waterford, Ireland (south of Dublin). When she was a girl, she was run over by a car and lost one leg. She immigrated to NY in 1901 when she was 18. She worked as a cook for a wealthy family in Manhattan. As best we can tell, she came alone.

Patrick Joseph Bannon was my maternal great-grandfather. He was actually born in Lancaster, England when his parents were living there for a few years because of lack of work in their family village in Drogheda, Ireland (north of Dublin). At the time Drogheda was a poor sea coast village on the river near the Irish Sea. Patrick came to NYC in 1907.

Both of them lived in poverty in New York City. They married and 2 sons. Both sons worked their way up in civil service: John, my grandfather, became a fire battalion chief in the NYC fire department and his brother became a senior police detective in the NYC police department (and, my uncle followed his uncle and also became a NYC cop).

Irishness was important on both sides of my family. My father grew up embarrassed that his last name was Stetzer. He was a union iron lather (someone who puts "re-bar" in the concrete before it is poured). All the men he apprenticed with were Irish and most were related to him-- and he would tell me years later that he hated how they mocked his "name" though he was as Irish as most of them.

On my mother's side, things got a little weird. For obvious reasons, I did not mention this much in Ireland, but my aunt was actually arrested a few years ago for smuggling guns to a splinter group of the IRA. Since this was after the Good Friday Agreement, it was technically not to the IRA (they had disbanded). Her name was Margaret Bannon and you can read about her arrest here. She committed suicide soon after her arrest.

I never had much of a sense of Irish nationalism. And, my family was never very Catholic. We were Irish Catholic-- the Catholic Church was the church we didn't go to on Sundays. But, it was great learning about my family heritage. They hailed from Drogheda on my mother's side, with some connections to Waterford. On my father's side, they come from Dublin and from other places lost in the migrations.

Ireland is beautiful. The Irish people are kind and funny. They laugh a lot. It reminded me of my grandfather. And, I wanted to grow my red hair back so I would fit in better. (I hated the red hair as a kid, and it went away in my twenties... along with a lot of the connection to my Irish roots.)

Thanks for putting up with my family history-- it makes my mother happy to read it on my blog. It was a great week and I am glad I went. I would not be surprised if I returned there with my kids for a visit.

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Reflections on "Irishness" (w/ My Family History)