Nations can be complex things. They are not just communities. They are not just cultures. They are not just geographic regions. They are not just a shared language. They are not just a bureaucratic jurisdiction. They are all those things – and so much more. Nations represent the heritage that our predecessors have bequeathed to us, and they represent the heritage that we will pass along to our successors.
Michael Brendan Dougherty’s book, ‘My Father Left Me Ireland’ explores these ideas in the context of a son who has grown up without his father. In a series of letters to his father, he explores the Gaelic tradition that he was separated from physically – but felt a deep sense of connectedness to. Dougherty grew up in America as the son of separated parents with his father living in Ireland, and his sense of connection to his Celtic background has come to define who he is, in both his name and his deeds.
The drive for the man to connect with his Celtic roots comes from a deep affection for his family and his nation. Dougherty grows up dismayed at his father and disconnected from the Gaelic traditions, and as Dougherty begins to build a family of his own, he seeks to build a cultural legacy to pass onto his own daughter. He tries to find his family but ends up finding his nation: a nation that Dougherty celebrates with his own daughters through language, through stories and through music.
The stories that Dougherty tells will resonate with Manx people. Beyond the shared Celtic and Gaelic heritage that we share with our Irish neighbours, in our modern world, Dougherty seeks to overcome the challenge of his nation being merely a plastic souvenir, merely a Riverdance video, merely a tax haven for big America corporations to use to ride the Celtic Tiger. Who in the Isle of Man can not see the parallel challenges of our own cultural heritage? We too risk our nation merely being a fridge magnet, or a social media video, or a tax haven for multinational corporations.
In seeking to preserve his nation for his children, Dougherty creates a moving and romantic alternative: a nation that isn’t defined by consumerism or by jurisdictional tax advantages, but rather, one that is defined by its stories, its music and its language. My Father Left Me Ireland isn’t merely a historical essay of someone lamenting a dying nation, but rather, it is a possible instructional manual to build and celebrate our nation with the next generation. What greater purpose could a nation have than to inspire a new generation?
The book is outstanding and moving, telling the story of one man’s effort to connect with his Celtic nation. I do not cry during many books, but I enjoyed the tears that this book generated. That is why My Father Left Me Ireland is worth reading, to share the emotional journey that Dougherty tells so vividly.