As a natural redhead, I was always acutely aware of my Irish ancestry despite both my parents being blonde. When I was growing up, my parents taught me that my hair was a reason to feel proud and special, but I always hated standing out. People always asked me if I was a leprechaun, so I became ashamed rather than proud of my heritage. This always made my parents sad, especially because one of my younger sisters was a redhead too and they didn’t want her to be negatively affected by my experience. For years I dyed my hair in efforts to blend in more.
It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that my mind shifted. While I was studying abroad, I traveled to Ireland for a weekend trip with my best friend who also happened to be Irish. We explored Dublin, Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher. Being in Ireland was a transformative experience for me, because on a deeper level it felt like a homecoming. I felt more connected than ever to my distant relatives, who emigrated to the United States so long ago. My best friend and I decided to commemorate this important personal and cultural experience by buying the traditional Irish claddagh ring, which represents love, loyalty, and friendship. Wearing my claddagh ring will always remind me of that trip and how much has changed for my personal identity since I embraced my hair and my Irish background as a part of my identity.
– Lauren Evans