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The Irish - Theresa Healey


Theresa Healey - Irish
Actor

One of my aunts enjoyed a pint of Guinness a day and swore that's what kept her healthy. She lived to 98, so she can't have been too far wrong.

I'm fifth generation Irish, so obviously my family has been in New Zealand for well over a hundred years. Despite that, we grew up always knowing we were Irish - Irish who happened to live in New Zealand.

And we're unmistakable. A love of the Catholic Church, horse racing, wine, whiskey and beer, a darned good cry, a great argument and an even better laugh are paramount in my family.

Sunday roast dinners meant the more the merrier, and always, always, blood was thicker than water.

Everyone knows that the Irish are great travelers. Of course, the Irish story is often not a happy one. Most Irish people left their homeland because of hunger, poverty and the drive to seek a much better life for themselves and their young families.

Mine was part of that. Fourteen of my sixteen great great grandparents came from Ireland. Some came for love, some for the gold, some were in the Irish Fencibles. All were seeking something better than they had back home.

Like nearly all Irish, it wasn't easy for them once they got here. Irish immigrants - especially Catholics - were like the Blacks of the South Pacific. Restricted to menial jobs and banned from many places, old prejudices remained.
 
That was way back then - now the Irish are everywhere. We're former Prime Ministers and All Black captains, singers and musicians, racing magnates and yeah, the odd publican or two.

Of course, a huge part of growing up Catholic meant going to Catholic schools. And that meant that most of my teachers - the nuns especially - had Irish roots. Consequently, the traditions of Irish music, literature and culture were just part of being at a Catholic school.

It also meant that with our uniforms we were a bit different from the other kids. And it seems that every Catholic kid has a story about being teased and chanted at.

From St Francis School in Auckland we had to go to the dentist at the local state school, and I remember a whole gang of kids screaming "Protestant, Protestant, ring the bell - Catholic, Catholic, go to hell." The teacher said to us "don't worry, they're talking about Ireland." She didn't elaborate&.

Yeah, we did feel different, but special too.

I certainly felt different when I visited the Orange Lodge, that bastion of Protestantism. My grandmother would've been turning in her grave to see me shake hands with the Lodge's Grand Master - a rather formidable looking elderly lady!

But it was hardly the hot bed of hell that my Grandmother would've had it. I don't know what happened in her, or her mother's, past that made her hate the Freemasons so much, but it all looked pretty ordinary to me. Certainly not something I'd bother turning Proddy to get into, even to learn that fabled secret handshake!
 
Living in New Zealand, everyone is obsessed with going to England to do their Big OE. I did that too, and LOATHED England.

Then I went to Ireland, and it all made sense. That was honestly a great surprise to me. I didn't expect to feel this overwhelming strange sense of "this is where I come from! Oh my God, I get it now. We're all a bit mad crazy, but we're just like the rest Ireland!"

The funny thing was I kept seeing people that looked the spitting image of everyone I'd ever known. I mean, look at me with my dark hair, fair complexion, and my name - Theresa Maree Healey - I'd have to be Irish Catholic. No question!

Except, well, an admission perhaps, but I don't like the colour green. Of course I make an effort and wear it on St Patrick's Day. Not to do so would be tantamount to treason. I also tend towards U2, rather than the Celtic music so-called Irish pubs are keen on pumping through the sound system. I also prefer to wave my arms about when I dance. Yeah, Irish dancing wasn't for me.

So New Zealand might be half the way across the world, but it seems that Irish blood is hard to water down!

That's not really surprising given how the Irish breed. With my 3rd generation Irish husband I've only got two children, but I was recently at my son's 6th birthday party and decided to count the number of kids - I lost count at 37&.

Irish, much?


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