Kiss Me, I’m Irish. Or Not Really.

According to my father, my ancestors are from all over the British Isles. So when people see my Claddagh ring, they ask me if I’m Irish. Being the way I am, I usually say “parts of me.” It almost always gives people pause when I say that, as if they’re wondering what parts those might be. Parts of my DNA, you guys!

March is, among other things, National Irish Heritage Month. Ireland is much more than just leprechauns, clovers, and beer. Its history is also much deeper than what normal people have heard of: the Irish Potato Famine of 1845. Not to say that the potato famine wasn’t a huge part of Irish history. It was. Due to that famine, thousands of Irish families boarded ships bound for America. When they arrived, they found that even though they spoke the language, they were regarded as second-class citizens and unemployable. If you’ve seen that Tom Cruise movie, Far and Away, then you know sort of what it was like. Fast forward a few years, and the Irish presence in New York City was so large that they had become a force in their own right. Because of sheer volume, politicians began to take notice of the Irish. It was a savvy politician in those days who supported the Irish and legitimized them as an ethnic group with power. When President Truman went to the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in 1948, everyone took notice.

The New York Saint Patrick’s Day parade is the largest and longest running civilian parade in the United States. It’s not just about the patron saint of Ireland, it’s also an Irish pride festival. Its inaugural march in 1762 consisted of Irish soldiers from the English military marching through the streets. This event gave the soldiers an opportunity to reconnect with their roots and to meet other Irishmen serving in the English army.

But it’s not all Shamrock Shakes, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” aprons, and beads. This holiday is just that: a holy day. Saint Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, due to his bringing Christianity to Ireland from England. March 17th is supposedly the day Saint Patrick died in 461 AD. The shamrock was apocryphally used by Saint Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish pagans. As the number three was significant to the pagans and some of their deities were tripartite, this theory could indeed have merit. Saint Patrick’s Day officially became a public holiday in Ireland in 1903, but it wasn’t until 1961 that the ban on pubs being open that day was lifted. So slap on some green and celebrate this country’s Irish heritage. Its influence is larger than you thought!

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2016