Today we are talking to the cousin of One Unified Project’s, Noelle Florek. Having a family that has a rich Irish background and traditions, we thought this story would fit nicely. Enjoy!
St. Patrick’s day is a big deal in your family. In what ways is the holiday recognized and celebrated for you?
“St. Patrick’s day takes me back to being a very young girl. It was a big deal in my house with my mom and her two sisters being Irish and Welsh. My mother always made it a very big holiday and a special time in our house. My father sent my mother flowers every St. Patrick’s day. He never missed. He knew how important that was. That morning we would wake up and our lunches for school were decorated in green. Our bread would be green. There would be stickers on our lunch bags, our lunch boxes. My father, who was an iron worker, would take his cooler and that day it would be decorated in shamrock stickers and everything green. All things green on St. Patrick’s day. We’d go to school and my mom would make sure she loaded us up with necklaces and hats and green bow ties and we went to school that way. That comes from my own childhood. I try to carry that tradition on to my children. That Irish pride. I do some of those same things for my own kids. Put green stickers on the lunch bags for them as well. Now my 11-year-old, he’ll wear them and my mother just bought him a brand-new beads, green beads with the Shamrocks and shamrock sunglasses. He’ll wear that to school this year. But the 14-year-old, he’s grown out of it a little. He doesn’t want to stand out in high school. The younger one, he’ll wear that stuff. He’ll wear the hats, and the beads around his neck and he’ll appreciate the green stickers all over his lunch bag for the day.
We also go to our local parades around here that were always a big deal. My husband works for union, belongs to a union, and every St. Patrick’s Day his Union would build the float and we would get to ride on that float for the parade. That’s how I share that with my family. Of course the kids love riding on the float and throwing candy out to the other kids. We decorate and don ourselves with the hats and everything green.”
Is your town (Nanticoke, PA) a heavily Irish populated town?
“No, it’s a pretty Polish population. We actually go to Wilkes-Barre, which is the next town up for the parades. And Scranton, Pa has a very big parade. That’s about 30 minutes from our house. That’s more for young adults. That parade is more bar hopping, more for the younger crowd I would say. For our family crowd, we stick with the Wilkes-Barre parade. We just make it a family affair.”
Last year you took a trip to Ireland. Was that your first trip there?
“Yes it was. My moms sister, who passed away almost 14 years ago, who traveled to Ireland quite a bit with her husband because it was something she loved to do, always promised that she would take me and my mother to Ireland with her. Since her unexpected passing, way too soon, obviously we never got to do that. So last year her husband and her son planned a trip for us to take my mom and I to realize the dream that her sister had for us. It was absolutely amazing. It was more than I imagined it would ever be. Completely different from the way that we live. The scenery, everything you see in pictures and more…The rolling green hills. It was just a welcoming atmosphere in every pub, restaurant, town, no matter where we were, tourist attractions or off the beaten path. Over the years my uncle has made friends in some of those towns. He and my aunt, when they would go over there, would try to meet the towns people, the people in the counties where our family came from. (County Mayo and County Cork.) We traveled for seven days. We drove around Ireland. We had an absolutely amazing time. We talked about my aunt a lot which was just so heartwarming for us. While we were there, my mom was able to get a picture of the family crest. She had a picture printed with our family name on it and has it hanging on her wall, which she brought back from Ireland.
One of the most surreal moments was when we stood at the part of the Irish Sea where my uncle took us. We got out of the car and there was a port. I just imagined standing there many many many years ago when our Welsh ancestors would have come to Ireland. I just imagined that that’s how my great grandparents (on my mother side) met. One was Irish and one was Welsh. Just to imagine how our ancestors might have met and here we were all those years later. It was exciting and interesting to see but this was the port they would have come into, where they would’ve started their lives together. That eventually each one of those families would somehow meet somewhere down the road and then become my ancestors. It was just so surreal as I stood there. I have a picture of that, a picture of us standing at the Irish Sea.”
Would you say that was your favorite moment of the trip?
“I think it was. My favorite historical moment for sure. There was a lot of history. We went to the Blarney Castle. I can’t believe my aunt ever got to the top of the Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone! Because I was amazed when I was walking up the steps just how difficult the trek was and how high it was. I know how petrified of heights she was and I am fearful of heights, but I had my nephew with me who’s not sure-footed. We got halfway up and we abandoned it. It was just my nephew and I who went to the Blarney Castle that day. My mom and uncle stayed behind at the hotel we stayed in, which was connected to the grounds on the Blarney Castle. My nephew and I started walking back down because it was just too treacherous. I was really nervous for him. So we stood at the bottom and blew up a kiss to the top where the Blarney Stone is. You have to actually hang over something, sort of backwards. You lay down on your back I believe, and almost kiss it upside down. I mean there are bars there and it’s very safe and there are people sitting there to make sure. But I wasn’t even sure if I was able to make it to the top, was I gonna be able to lean over and kiss the Blarney Stone. And to this day I can’t believe my aunt did it. I can’t imagine how she did it. I made peace with myself very quickly that I was not going to be able to kiss the Blarney Stone. If you kiss the Blarney Stone you’re supposed to get the gift of gab, to be a storyteller. That comes from our Irish ancestors, that they’re such great storytellers because they kissed the Blarney Stone.”
Would you say you grew up having more interest in your Irish heritage than any other shared heritages?
“My dad was Italian, and I looked more like my father plus being a daddy’s girl I came to embrace the Italian heritage probably a little bit more than my Irish heritage. But I really enjoyed our Irish family get-togethers, the creativity that I’m not sure was the gift of gab that came to us. But the creativity came from your side of the family, it was not from ours (laughter). It definitely came from you guys. I really appreciated that and I miss having that in my life.”