Posted on March 17, 2015
Hair, Heritage, and Saint Patrick’s Day
“Look at that hair! You must be Irish!”
“Corned beef and cabbage for dinner tonight, eh, sweetheart?”
“Why aren’t you wearing green? Where’s your pride?”
“You must be feeling lucky today!”
If I were to leave my house today, strangers would feel compelled to talk to me because of my red hair. Some of them would attempt an Irish brogue, which would result in them sounding like a drunken leprechaun attempting an American accent.
That part that I find comical is that I’m not even Irish.
Don’t get me wrong, Ireland is beautiful, and I’m sure her inhabitants are too. I quite enjoy a proper Irish accent or step-dance. But I’m Scottish. The red hair is deceptive that way.
My maiden name is MacDonald. Because I’m a nerd (and I took linguistics in college), I’ve done a little research on my name. I’m told that “Mac” makes it Scottish, while “Mc” would make it Irish. “Mac” is also said to translate to “son of,” while dhomnhiull, from which Donald descended, means “lord of the isles.” This is basic Google-search level information. But there’s more.
My family is MacDonald of Clanranald, the smallest of the MacDonald tribes. We have a different tartan and crest than the other MacDonalds.
The motto, “My hope is constant in thee,” is said to be a quote from “Robert the Bruce to Angus Og Macdonald and his Men of the Isles at Bannockburn in 1319” (source).
But that’s not my favorite story about the MacDonalds of Clanranald.
There’s a tiny wooden chest–more of a box, really–that sits in my parents’ living room. It’s been there all my life. The story goes that, years ago, a man crossed the ocean with all his worldly possessions in that box: a clean shirt, a letter from the church in Kilninnian that granted him passage, and a King James Bible. He was the first of us in the Americas. That’s why I cling to my Scottish heritage: without that man, without the church at Kilninnian on the Isle of Mull, we may never have found the Lord. It’s all very romanticized in my mind, of course; I know that. But it’s nice to have the stories. And there are more stories, of course. About my grandmother’s childhood on Skye Mountain, about her cousins who lived in Middle River, and about the vacations where I learned it all. But those are for another day.