My Father Left Me Ireland

National Review senior writer Michael Brendan Dougherty delivers a meditation on belonging, fatherhood, and nationalism, through a series of letters to his estranged Irish father.

The child of an Irish man and an Irish-American woman who split up before he was born, Michael Brendan Dougherty grew up with an acute sense of absence. He was raised in New Jersey by his hard-working single mother, who gave him a passion for Ireland, the land of her roots and the home of Michael's father. She put him to bed using little phrases in the Irish language, sang traditional songs, and filled their home with a romantic vision of a homeland over the horizon.

Every few years, his father returned from Dublin for a visit, but those encounters were never long enough. Devastated by his father's departures, Michael eventually consoled himself by believing that fatherhood was best understood as a check in the mail. Wearied by the Irish kitsch of the 1990s, he began to reject his mother's Irish nationalism as a romantic myth.

Years later, when Michael found out that he would soon be a father himself, he could no longer afford to be jaded; he would need to tell his daughter who she is and where she comes from. He immediately re-immersed himself in the biographies of firebrands like Patrick Pearse and studied the Irish language. And he decided to reconnect with the man who had left him behind, and the nation just over the horizon. He began writing letters to his father about what he remembered, missed, and longed for. Those letters would become this book.

Along the way, Michael realized that his longings were shared by many Americans of every ethnicity and background. So many of us these days lack a clear sense of our cultural origins or even a vocabulary for expressing this lack--so we avoid talking about our roots altogether. As a result, the traditional sense of pride has started to feel foreign and dangerous; we've become great consumers of cultural kitsch, but useless conservators of our true history.

In these deeply felt and fascinating letters, Dougherty goes beyond his family's story to share a fascinating meditation on the meaning of identity in America.

My Review

As far as memoir type books good, this is a really good one. I liked the way that this book was written in the style of letters. I really appreciated the fact that author, Michael shared his heart and soul with this book. The letters really brought me closer to him. This is exactly the way I want to feel and experience when I am reading a book about someone's life.

My heart ached for Michael. Yet, he had a wonderful mother. She loved him. Her inserting bits of Ireland to him when he was a young boy is sweet. With each letter, I grew closer to Michael. He was honest in his letters. I have been fortunate to never experience my parents going through a divorce. Yet, my nephews have and my heart breaks for them.

Readers who like reading nonfiction or memoirs will find this book heartfelt and real. Mr. Dougherty is so honest that it is refreshing to read that in a book. This book is a recommended read.


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