Ancestry Kits & St. Patrick’s Day

Sarah McMahon
4 min readMar 19

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

Are you Irish? said the man on the other end of the phone when he heard my last name. “McMahon,” I had told him.

“With two n’s?” he asked.

“No, like Ed McMahon,” I answer, “M-c-M-a-h-o-n.”

Old men always know who Ed McMahon is, or was. McMahon is an Irish name, the man on the phone isn’t wrong about that. McMahon is derived from the Gaelic MacMathghamhna meaning “son of the bear.” The exact degree to which I actually own any Irish ancestry is a foggy point at best. Maybe some, maybe none, I don’t really know but either way, it isn’t much.

Which is kind of okay, because most of what I have gleaned about the Irish from pop culture is that they eat potatoes and drink beer and smack their wives and children and say things like “On me tod!” Or, “May the road rise up and meet you.” They are devout Catholics who have too many children and every year, on the 17th of March, they seep out of our cracks and floorboards to dump green dye in our rivers and in our beers. They sing and shout and make us believe we’re all a bit Irish, just a little, and that this day is ours, too. Then, we wake up hungover with dry mouths and a hopelessness in our chests because we are not all charmingly Irish, nor are we very charming. We’re just dumb, regular folks going about our dumb, regular lives.

I was once offered an ancestry test, one where you spit into tubes and mail it away to some lab where they compare your spit to thousands of other spit samples and deduct that you are, in fact, 8% Irish, not 12% like your mother thought. There are also DNA tests for dogs for the do-gooders who rescue three-legged half-wolves and dress them in plaid sweaters with matching boots and buy them Temper Pedic dog beds and all-organic, non-GMO, free-range, vegan dog kibble. Nothing against half-wolves, I quite prefer them to most dumb, regular people.

Anyway, I didn’t take the ancestry test because I don’t think it matters one bit what percentage I am of anything. I’m so obviously Caucasian that it doesn’t make a hill-of-a-beans difference what kind of Caucasian I am, because being Caucasian is the last thing that matters about anyone, unless you’re a tall, handsome Caucasian man with a higher-than-average…

Sarah McMahon

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