Green-eyed exiles


Once upon a time I was the size of a leprechaun and just as mischievous. I went to school with hundreds of children just like myself. On St. Patrick’s Day, you had to wear green or you would have to spend recess running away from little green-clad people intent on pinching you. Any other day of the year, you would be punished for tormenting one another that way, but on St. Patrick’s Day you could do so with abandonment.


My imagination didn’t respond to my inquiry about the source of St. Patrick’s Day pinching, so I had to search online. One source said it began in America in the early 1700s. Irish immigrants would have brought over the idea that green made you invisible to leprechauns, who apparently honored St. Patrick by pinching people. If you drink a few beers, it will start to make sense to you. Since America was under English rule during the early 1700s, I can imagine that the Irish enjoyed pinching their unsuspecting English neighbors.


I usually remembered to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, but even if I forgot, I felt protected because I had green eyes. That was the only day of the year I was happy about my eye color.


Both of my parents had blue eyes, as did my older sister, K. Besides the fact that for a while I took my eye color as proof that I was adopted, my mother often quoted this little ditty:


Blue-eyed beauty does her mother’s duty,

Green-eyed greedy gut eats the whole world up.

Later I would discover that two of my mother’s secrets were green-eyed: her first two children. Connie, the oldest, was in familial exile, her name not to be mentioned at home. Clyde, her brother, was working on a record, a discography of petty crimes. Since I shared the same eye color as the exile and the criminal, I assumed I would grow up to be like one of them.


I gave up on a life of crime at an early age after my father called the police about my tampering with the U.S. mail. You can read about it here. Since the age of six, I’ve been more or less a law-abiding citizen. But I have been an exile all my life. My family never banished me, but all of my life I have wanted to belong to that blue-eyed world. And all of my life, I have felt outside of it.


So, today, in honor of St. Patrick, the exiles from Ireland, and all who are looking for their one true home, I want to share a music video by Karan Casey and John Doyle called Exiles Return.  I couldn’t find all of the lyrics, but the chorus goes like this:


And though we bid farewell in sorrow

We may meet again in distant lands

And drink our health in joy for parting

When the Exile will return again.


Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

33 thoughts on “Green-eyed exiles

  1. I have blue eyes, and they are nothing to write home about.
    in that ironic twist that invariably explains a whole lot,
    I spent my entire life wishing I could have green eyes.
    to me, green eyes meant mystery, and adventurous.
    blue eyes meant … well, never mind … they weren’t green.
    wanna trade?

  2. My husband has beautiful green eyes… Mine are dark, dark brown (flashing black has also been used to describe them). I would have loved to have green eyes, instead. I, too, had wondered about the pinching tradition, but hadn’t gotten around to researching it.

    • Flashing black eyes sound intriguing. I’m sure your husband found them so.

      A couple of people who live in Ireland mentioned that they aren’t familiar with the pinching, so it seems to be just an American tradition.

  3. My driver’s license calls my eyes Hazel, but I have for a long time referred to them as loden green with a teal surround. AND that means they are way sexy, no?
    Beautiful eyes come in every color; it’s the beauty behind them that makes them so.
    Anyway, Erin Go Bragh to you, whether you are the pincher or the pinchee.

  4. Thank you for another wonderful post. Since St Patrick’s Day is not recognized as a holiday in my country, I was barely aware of it till I heard it mentioned in other countries. And I don’t remember that I’ve ever worn green in honor of it. But like yourself, I have green eyes, so I will now see them as a continuous sign of respect for the Irish.

  5. Happy St Patrick’s Day from Ireland – I suspect you are right about the pinching being an opportunity for past generations of Irish people to pinch English people in other places – in every sense of that phrase – and not get arrested/deported/dead. I’ve never heard of it, believe it or not. But then again we never have school on St Patrick’s Day so maybe that explains it.

    Today I was part of our local St Patrick’s Day parade and I wasn’t wearing anything green -and nobody pinched me. Mind you I did have a shamrock that looked like a head of broccoli painted on my cheek with green eye-liner (big mistake – it took c. 20 minutes to scrub off btw) so maybe that protected me?

    I have brown eyes but my mother has one brown and one green eye – like David Bowie except she’s older, female, not a rock star or rich – but other than that like him. And I too like green eyes.

    Who wouldn’t.

    • I’d like to know more about how the pinching tradition started but didn’t find a lot of information.

      Thank you for the tip about not using eyeliner as face paint. It sounds as if it were quite a large shamrock.

      I did some reading online this morning about eye color. That’s interesting about your mom. One site I went to had a chart that said there was just a 1% probability of two blue-eyed people having a green-eyed child. I couldn’t find the source. But each site I visited said that brown was dominant.

  6. Hello from Ireland. I have blue eyes and I am happy enough with them. However I think green eyes are much more exotic – lucky you. I have never heard of pinching. I loved the music video BTW.

    • The pinching must be only here in America.

      I’m glad you liked the music video. I think Karan Casey’s voice is amazing. I listened to several of her songs this morning and love every one of them.

  7. Green-eyed here. Really really GREEN. I’ve had salepeople comment on them. “Spooky” said one.

    First time I’ve heard about the pinching and I do have a pinch ‘o the Irish in me …. from me Mom’s side. Darrah … “Dark Oak”

    I loved the “Exiles Return” so much I tracked it down to You Tube and then swiped your lovely Shamrock and sent it to my sissies to celebrate the day.

    Thanks SO much for all this largesse in one post.

    • Irish music seems to either be filled with foot-stomping joy or heartbreaking melancholy. I love it, too. Of course, I’m a fool for just about any music that includes a fiddle or a mandolin.

  8. I was a brown-eyed girl, and still am for that matter, behind two blue-eyed beauties – my only consolation was that my parents were stuck with the same sludge brown eyes as I. Now I look at my own two brown-eyed children and know that it is the loveliest color in the world!

  9. What a great post — thank you for Karan Casey and John Doyle — lovely lovely song.

    I’m Irish and never been pinched — and I do occasionally forget to wear green. Perhaps it is a regional thing.

  10. Thanks for the great St. Pat’s post. I have always loved my green eyes, even as a child growing up in a sea of brown-eyed siblings. But then again, I was also the only towhead in a family of brunettes. Hmmmm…maybe I should have asked more questions…? Anyway, I digress. I simply love green, it’s my favourite colour and I wear it often. Much too often according to my granddaughter. She tells me I have no respect for the colour. That in order to give any colour the proper respect, you must use it in moderation. Something to think about to be sure

    • You must have been the golden child with your blonde hair and green eyes.

      I love green, too. I’m sure it has something to do with my eye color. But I wouldn’t say I have a lot of green clothes. Your granddaughter has an interesting take of respecting color. I will have to give it some thought.

  11. I used to tweak rather than pinch on St Patrick’s Day when I was in high school: I’d wear Norwegian colors with great pride and put on the anti-pinching defensive green only in the form of a Mr. Yuk sticker (you know, the bright green frowny-face sign designating toxic materials). My proud Irish friends were of course the target of my tweaking and it probably provoked more pinching than it prevented, but I’m happily hazy on the topic after all these years. I did wear green on the day this year, which has become a perfectly convenient approach now that R works for the University of North Texas, whose ‘Mean Green’ team color is an ideal Kelly green. Handy, no?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s