Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Irish In Me (Maybe)

(Sweetest Heart of Mary Church, Detroit, March 17, 2006)

Every year on St. Patrick's Day I celebrate my Irish heritage, or rather what could be my Irish heritage. My family tree has over 2000 names on it, virtually all of them Polish (the names of pre-immigration ancestors anyway). Three of my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Poland, the third was born in Detroit of parents who immigrated from Poland. I've always thought of myself as strictly Polish American until a few years ago when I added a surname to my tree that certainly isn't a traditional Polish name. When St. Patrick's Day comes around it gets me wondering about it's origin all over again.

The name is KILLIAN or KILIAN (church records have it spelled both ways). I actually have not one but 2, 4th-great-grandmothers who were KILLIANS... Malgorzata (Margaret) and Agnieszka (Agnes). They were from the village of Podborze in (Galicia) Poland. When I think of the name KILLIAN, I think of Ireland. That is probably due to the good marketing of Coors' Killian's Irish Red beer which the company claims is made using a recipe from George Killian Lett an Irish brewmaster from back in the 1800s. In truth, KILLIAN is not a common surname in Ireland but it does have a historical presence in a few counties in the Emerald Isle.

Way back in time (late 1600s), a group of Irish soldiers known as the "
Wild Geese" were more or less banned from Ireland and fled to France and then throughout Europe to several countries including Poland. I haven't been able to find a list of surnames of the "Wild Geese" to know if a KILLIAN was among them. But until I find out otherwise, I will consider it entirely possible. It's one explanation for how a KILLIAN ended up in Poland and on my family tree.

The surname KILLIAN/KILIAN is also connected with Germany through an Irish missionary who traveled to Germany (abt. 690 A.D.) and later became
St. Kilian. It is believed that some Germans took KILIAN as a surname in honor of the saint. However it appears that the KILIANs of Germany were more commonly Lutheran than Catholic. So while Germany is geographically closer to Poland than Ireland is, I don't think I can assume that the KILLIANs in my family were from Germany. My ancestors were Catholic. Still, they could be Germans or ... they could be Irish.

Maybe someday I'll find the source of my KILLIANs. Until that day, I'll continue to celebrate St. Patrick's Day as though I had a wee drop o' Irish blood in me... just in case ;-)