Press-Republican

March 17, 2013

A day to be proud of Irish roots

By GORDIE LITTLE, Small Talk
Press-Republican

---- — Two Irishmen walk into a pub. OK, I won’t bore you with that one, but I feel compelled to proudly wear the green today. 

I donned my favorite kelly green long-sleeved fleece shirt and buttoned it up to the neck for inspiration as I write this “Little” bit of blarney. Kaye quickly remarked that I had used all the wrong button holes.

Lest you think I’m claiming to have 100-percent Irish blood coursing through my veins, I desist. At the age of 4, I memorized the melting pot that is my heritage, and it goes like this: French, Irish, Scottish, English, Dutch, German and Indian. I would now refer to the latter as Native American.

French was first because my middle name is Requa. My mother’s paternal roots in this country date back to 1697 when three Requa brothers came to America, and one of them settled in what is now Sleepy Hollow, near Tarrytown, N.Y. In 1997, Requas from far and wide gathered there to celebrate their tercentennial reunion. It was a fabulous weekend, as we toured the original Requa home site, walked past ancient Requa graves in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and participated in a wonderful Sunday service held in the charming Old Dutch Reform church. The New York Times made it a front-page spread. When we got home, I wrote my impressions of the event and recorded them with music on audio cassettes, distributed to many of the attendees.

The oldest Requa present was Aunt Eloise, my mother’s sister. The youngest was a tiny baby, whom I think was from Requa, Calif. I have recently renewed correspondence with Eloise’s daughter (my first cousin), Gloria. She was 92 on March 5 and still drives her car.

So much for the distaff side of the family. With the surname Little, there has to be a goodly number of genes from the old sod as well as from Scotland. Growing up, I was told very little about the Littles. You’re fortunate if you knew all your grandparents. Mine all left this earth when I was very young; but I recall a giant of a red-headed Irishman visiting our house in Thornwood, N.Y., when I was about 5. He was my dad’s father. I saw him only once before he died.

After almost six decades, I began a search and, with the help of many friends familiar with genealogy, I was able to trace my paternal ancestors back to Letterkenny, now the largest and most populated town in County Donegal, Ireland. During the horrible potato famine in 1848, the man of the house gathered up a young son and daughter and boarded what we now call a “coffin” ship in Derry, bound for America. They landed in Philadelphia and eventually made their way to Rochester, N.Y. My dad, the late Russell E. Little, was born in nearby Victor, in 1907.

During a trip to Ireland with our daughter-in-law Judy Connell Baker several years ago, we enjoyed a walking tour around Derry. As we stood looking at the water, I told our guide I always longed to stand on the spot where my ancestors got onto the ship all those years ago. He asked where we were spending the night, and I pointed to a hotel across the street. He smiled broadly and said, “You’re in luck. That’s the exact spot where they boarded.” Talk about goose bumps!

I’ve never had an opportunity to trace the Littles back to Scotland, but Kaye and I went there with our son Gordie and his wife, Lisa. I thought I’d look for “Little” references in the old church books with thousands of names. Imagine my surprise to find that our surname was very common, but without professional help, I could never make the specific connections.

When I moved to Plattsburgh in 1961 to begin a long radio career, the Mannix family soon embraced me and always gave me a warm Irish welcome anytime I crossed their doorstep. Their St. Patrick’s Day parties were legendary and as fresh in my memory as if they happened today. I won’t say we always sang on key, but at least we sang with Irish enthusiasm.

Enjoy every minute of this special day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at gordandk@aol.com.