Thursday, March 17, 2011

Luck o' the Irish

Today is St. Patrick's Day, a day of wearing of the green and drinking oneself into oblivion.  I have written elsewhere how I do not care for holidays that celebrate inebriation, such as the 4th of July and Cinco de Mayo.  Today is another of those holidays which is heartily embraced by 21st century America.  And why not?  Who doesn't want to be a Riley or O'Malley today?  'Tis a great thing to be Irish. Erin go Bragh!
photo © 2008 Eustaquio Santimano  Creative Commons License

Part of my heritage is Irish.  My maternal grandmother was of Irish descent and as my sister continues her search into that side of the family I will learn more about when my Irish ancestors came to the United States.  I suspect the potato famine of the late 1840s since that is the typical immigration pattern.

Unfortunately I have little affinity for this part of my background.  I read Angela's Ashes and experienced all too much familiarity with the tough Irish mother with high expectations for her children.  I do not mean to imply that I experienced the issues that Frank McCourt experienced, e.g. alcoholism and poverty.  I just know the type-- the mother who loves you fiercely while being critical and expecting you to exceed your own capabilities.  My children might recognize the type too.

But more importantly, on this great and celebrated holiday, we should not forget that the Irish were the object of great discrimination in this country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  "No Irish Need Apply" is something my Irish relatives recalled, even if some dispute its pervasiveness.  (My father told me once that the real prejudice, even as late at the 1930s, was against Catholics, not just the Irish).  The Irish did pull out of this discrimination, by establishing, among other things, themselves in politics (e.g. Boston and Albany NY, my home town)  and eventually seeing one of their own elected President in 1960.

And today, everyone wants to be Irish.  As a friend said, the Irish have contributed to the culture and thus are valuable, not withstanding earlier prejudice.  Given that the stereotype for Irish men is one of alcoholism, having this particular holiday be a major drinking excuse does not bode well for what the culture has acquired from the Irish.

Written in a drunken stupor while wearing a green t-shirt.  I salute you my forebears.

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