WASHINGTON, March 15, 2013 — First things first: I am Irish, second generation. Now that is out of the way, let’s get to the important part: St. Patrick’s Day is overrated and over-hyped. It’s time to let it go the way of the dodo.
When the waves of Irish immigration hit the shores of America in the Nineteenth Century and at the beginning of the Twentieth, the Irish were treated as second-class citizens or worse. Boarding house signs read: “No dogs or Irish allowed.” A tent city of Irish immigrants sprung up in what would become Central Park. Those a bit better off wound up in the New York tenements of Five Points that for 70 years were known as a center of crime and pestilence.
However, the discrimination the Irish suffered was real and they were truly a people in need of a major ego boost. Like most immigrants, it took them over a century to be accepted in their new homeland, but slowly being Irish was rebranded as someone with grit, gumption and political savvy as they moved into city hall, literature, entertainment, and down the street.
Today people who have even a drop — if that — of Irish blood sport buttons saying, “Kiss me, I’m Irish.” The St. Patrick’s Parade down New York’s Fifth Avenue rivals Macy’s Christmas parade as an extravaganza that draws huge, adoring crowds who suddenly grow hushed at the sound of bagpipes creaking through the air. “Danny Boy” floats out of pubs and the beer flows green. If you don’t wear shamrock green, you are seen as a heathen.
That Irish delicacy corned beef and cabbage, whose stench once filled the halls of the tenements, is now a March 17th gourmet treat, with even that maestro of all things proper, Martha Stewart sharing recipes on how to prepare the traditional Irish dish.
Cook it in beer, cook it in Irish whiskey, it doesn’t matter. Unless it is corned beef served on rye with a smear of mustard in a Jewish deli, it just doesn’t taste that great. Heresy, I know.
Today 36,278,332 Americans claim Irish ancestry or about 12% of the population, but their impact on American society has been immense from the first Irish-American and Catholic president, John F. Kennedy to playwright Eugene O’Neill to reformer Mary Harris aka Mother Jones to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy to funnyman Will Ferrell to movie star George Clooney to artist Georgia O’Keefe.
You would think that would be enough, but no, the Irish have to convert everyone to the wearing of the green.
And on March 17th they pretty well succeed. Very few towns, much less big cities, don’t have a parade, even if their Irish citizens are far and few between. Other ethnic groups have gotten into the parade business as well from the Italians on Columbus Day to New York’s Puerto Rican parade to African American groups. So far, there is no sighting of the original American-Americans marching, the Native American Indians.
Over in Ireland, the celebration has gone hog-wild with nearly a million and half people expected to show up for the five-day Irish love-fest in Dublin, with parade of course, many of them flying back to the “homeland,” to reclaim their heritage. The celebration makes a bit more sense in Ireland since the country lived under the heel of the British so long and thousands upon thousands died or fled in what is known as the Irish diaspora after the potato famine. It is sort of an Independence Day celebration.
Here St. Patrick’s Day revelry has turned into a maudlin celebration of all things Irish from leprechauns and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow (something the Irish in Ireland never saw) to sentimental Celtic singers to the clogging of Riverdance to copious quantities of beer and Guinness dark stout consumed in the name of the saint who first went to Ireland as a slave and returned a bishop.
“Erin go bragh. Ireland forever.” Perhaps, but as a grandchild of Irish immigrants and a citizen of the good, old U.S. of A., I am not an hyphenated American, and it’s “America the Beautiful” that makes me misty-eyed, not “Danny Boy.”
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