In the photo below, which person is the direct descendant of an Irish-American school teacher named James O’Hara? The born-in-Manila mocha-skinned gentleman on the left, or the sweet red-haired-and-freckled lass on the right?
The guy on the left, naturally. Can’t you tell?
During the Great Famine, one James O’Hara left County Cork, Ireland for the United States and a better life. At around the same time, one Catherine Kelly, whose sister was supposed to leave for America but chickened out, took her sister’s steamship ticket and left in her place. Somehow both James and Catherine ended up in Ohio, met each other and got married.
One of their children, also named James, was a teacher. The United States had just won the Spanish-American war, and one of the territories handed over to the U.S. was a Spanish colony called the Philippine Islands. The Americans were establishing a presence there, and there was a call for all kinds of workers, including teachers.
James boarded a ship in San Francisco and set sail for Manila. He ended up outside Manila in the city of Antipolo, where he settled down, got married, had several children and learn to speak and read Spanish and Tagalog fluently.
One of his children is Marietta O’Hara, who was my fair-skinned, green-eyed grandmother. Marietta married Guillermo deVilla Sr., had a kid named Guillermo O’Hara deVilla Jr., who in turn had me. The combination of Irish and Filipino genes makes us great partiers who can hold their drink and have strong family ties and fabulous shoe collections.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everybody!