Thursday, February 24, 2011

Whoops

Anne's family apparently has a more widespread (and more nefarious) reputation than I realized.

I should probably explain.

My birth-mother and her relations, for all their current squalor, come from an extravagantly aristocratic background and until a fairly short time ago, historically speaking, were major players on the international stage.

Because I was raised apart from Anne, this is a heritage that I've only discovered recently, and my feelings toward it are somewhat conflicted.

To make a long story short, Anne's line is the product of two major royal houses, several prominent noble dynasties, and a smorgasbord of the upper echelon of American society.

Beyond scholars of obscure naval and colonial history, I've encountered few Americans who have appreciated the import of my mother's family or even recognized her surname. Evidently, however, we had a rather more pronounced impact on the other side of the Atlantic.

I came to this realization by way of Major University's dining hall manager, who is an immigrant from Ireland.

Yesterday while standing in line to enter the cafeteria, I heard the girl in front of me discussing a certain Irish city with him.

"Oh, yes, I've been there!" Irish Man exclaimed with gusto. "It's a beautiful place. A beautiful place indeed!"

He was still chuckling when I got to him, and so I thought I'd bring up my own connection to Ireland.

"Hey," I began. "Do you know where Anne's Ancestral Seat is?"

His face clouded.

"Well, of course I do," he said. "Yes, I know it."

"That's my family's, uh...place."

Calling the castle fortress and surrounding region our "place" seemed the most polite way of putting it; Anne's family were actually English aristocrats with no Irish blood at all, and their relationship with the Emerald Isle was fraught.

Towards the end of the 17th Century a branch of the dynasty just hopped across the Irish Sea, carved out a piece of Ireland, declared their ownership over it, and stayed there for a few hundred years.

We were like house guests. With guns.

It was only after I'd said the town's name that the inadvisability of so identifying myself to a native Irishman occurred to me.

"Oh," he said. "You're one of them."

He called out to the other students in line.

"We have one of Them right here!"

The students smiled uncertainly, none of them having recognized the name.

"Well," he said to me. "You must be a very wealthy young man. A multi-millionaire."

"No," I answered. "No, no, no."

What's especially funny about this is that Anne and most of the people related to her are now in advanced states of destitution. People tend to remember history, though.

"Are you kidding?" he asked. "You people owned half of Ireland!"

I felt a vague sense of guilt.

For all the good that Anne's family has undeniably done, they've also had a series of rather unpleasant incidents that has included leading entire nations to war (more than once, though mostly in Europe), establishing monolithic and exploitative corporate entities (mostly in this country), helping to perpetuate the institution of slavery (also mostly in this country), and, on one truly regrettable occasion in Jamaica, committing a crime against humanity.

In perspective, our comparatively brief conquest of just one part of Ireland wasn't that bad. But still.

"I don't think it was quite half," I mumbled awkwardly.

Irish Man smiled at me. He'd only been teasing.

"Enjoy your meal," he said with a laugh.

I took my ticket, waited until Laquesha had passed through the line, and then went to find a table.

6 comments:

Sue (Someone's Mom) said...

You need to go on the television show where they go back and trace their roots and meet relatives from other lines of the family. I can't rememember the name of it, but Rosie O'Donnell was just on it. What an interesting story it would be!

naturgesetz said...

I'd really love to know just which family, town and castle it was. I say that because I have Irish ancestry myself, and I was there last year to see the area where a great-great-grandfather and -grandmother came from, Of course actually being there makes me feel connected to the whole country and its history even more stongly than before, and I want to seize and hold any tidbit of connection — which you have now become. Did your people live anywhere near my people? Have I heard of them? Did I go anywhere near their place? And so on.

I know you are very careful not to give out such information in your blog, but if you would e-mail me with it I'd be very grateful. And I'm sure I couldn't trace you even if I wanted to, given the doubtless large number of your people on this side of the Atlantic.

And it's not as if I hate the English, since half of my ancestry is English.

Madame DeFarge said...

I'm not sure how far I'd go back to discover my ancestry. It's only the recent ones that have made me what I am, personality wise, so I doubt I'd be that fussed to find out. I suspect that I came from the bit of Ireland your lot ruled...

secret agent woman said...

Ya, it's a dangerous thing to claim ownership of something your ancestors once had.

BrightenedBoy said...

Sue: Thanks!

Naturgesetz: I may post the name when I do a fuller entry on the topic. It's through my mother's side and has changed often enough that I doubt I could be identified by it.

Madame DeFarge: I find many aspects of history fascinating. This group of people interests me not only because we share DNA, but because of their historical significance.

I try to make my own identity. I refuse to allow myself to be defined by what my forebears did.

Their antics in Ireland were not entirely honorable. That being said, the incident is only one part of a story that has included an enormous amount of good.

The legacy is also not as far removed as I may have indicated; Anne's family retained a large amount of political and financial power well into the 20th Century. One of my grandmother's first memories was an assassination attempt on her mother (who incidentally survived into old age and was a major influence on Anne).

BrightenedBoy said...

Secret Agent Woman: I certainly wasn't claiming ownership of a place I've never seen.

I was merely trying to identify my connection with Ireland, and I didn't imagine that something that took place some time ago would give offense (which it didn't; the man was joshing me).