Today is St. Patrick’s Day. He is the patron saint of Ireland, and in his honour people will drink themselves into a stupor, consuming vast amounts of beer that has been dyed green.
A friend suggested we go out this evening, then we remembered what day it is. Social event postponed. I have no desire to mingle with crowds at the best of times; crowds of drunken people pretending to be Irish have zero appeal.
Anderson is a Scottish name, but for a while I thought my background was Irish. I knew my forebears had come to Canada from Ireland, and hadn’t given it much thought. I didn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day though – it’s the Roman Catholic holiday. Irish Protestants have their own day, in July. I didn’t celebrate that one either – both holidays seemed to me to be more political than religious, at least when you removed the alcohol. Given that my family came to Canada in 1846 I really had only an academic interest in the political/religious disputes of the old country.
However, I remember that in my first full-time job, I would wear an orange shirt (the Protestant colour) on St. Patrick’s Day, just to annoy a fiercely Irish coworker. I never said anything, but he knew.
Then my father, who was doing some genealogical research let me look at some of his results. Our family did indeed come to Canada from Ireland. But they had only lived there for three years, coming from Scotland in 1843 and then on to Canada three years later. He probably knew that already, but it was news to me.
There is a story there I am sure, but I don’t know of anywhere I would find it. I missed them when they were passed down, when the immigrants and second generation of my family were dying off. I don’t remember anyone mentioning the “old country.” Maybe the memories were of times so hard no one wanted to bring them up. I can only speculate. What brought them to Ireland in the first place? We’re they seeking a better life? Had they lost everything in Scotland, and were they trying to start over? Was it a business opportunity that went terribly wrong? Certainly they lost no time immigrating to Canada when the famine hit. The stories I realize now that I want to hear are gone. No-one thought to record them.
I don’t know how important that is. My ancestors weren’t, to my knowledge, famous. No-one is looking for them in the history books. As a younger man I didn’t have much interest in my family history, which is somewhat strange given that my favourite subject in school was always history. I guess I didn’t understand the importance of the ordinary.
Which has me thinking. In this age of digital storage media, preserving the ordinary might become even more uncommon. Yes, we are making memories and exhibiting them online like no-one before us. But they are online. How ephemeral will that method of storage turn out to be?
After all, in the past 30 years storage has moved from 5 ¼ inch floppy discs to 3 ½ inch to compact discs to digital video discs to USB drives and now has migrated to “the cloud.” In 100 years will anyone be able to access those records?
There’s a lot to be said in favour of paper and ink, a format that has stood the test of time, with documents that remain accessible a millennia after their creation. You can’t say that about a floppy disc.
I think when I started out to write this I had a vague thought that I would write about Irish culture, religion, or maybe about family. We’ve wound up at digital storage. If you didn’t know already, there is a reason I put the word “random” in the title of this blog. Some days I never know where we are going. I do hope though that you are enjoying the ride.