This St. Patrick’s Day, the pubs are silent, the bagpipes aren’t playing, and the parades have been canceled. The usual jovial holiday celebrating the patron saint of Ireland and Irish heritage will be celebrated in self-quarantine this year. There will be no drunken Irish melodies sung or bagpipes played, and this year that fresh pour of Guinness will come from your fridge instead of the tap at your local bar.
But don’t start humming a sad Irish tune quite yet, because there is still much to celebrate about the Irish in America. The Irish and their descendants have had an outsized impact on America. They have helped build our cities, defended our nation in wars, and represented us in the halls of Congress and in the Oval Office. The Irish are prideful people who have overcome centuries of tragedy—usually inflicted by the British—to form the world’s fourth-largest diaspora.
There are more Americans of Irish ancestry in American than there are Irishmen in Ireland (33 million vs 6.3 million respectively.) Many Irish Americans can trace their ancestry back to the Great Famine of 1848, which brought over a million Irishmen to American shores. The Irish were saved by the American dream.
However, that doesn’t mean they were always treated with dignity in this country. The Irish were discriminated against and businesses wouldn’t hire them. Signs that read “Irish need not apply” were strewn across the front doors of businesses throughout New York in the 1860s. Racism against the Irish was prevalent for many generations. The Irish brought their catholic faith with them, which angered many protestant Americans and led to decades of “Papist” suspicion. It wasn’t until President John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960 that much of these fears were put to rest.
The Protestant-Catholic rivalry has inflicted misery on the Irish for centuries. Protestant Northern Ireland—under the control of the British—and the Catholic Republic of Ireland were engaged in open conflict for decades, often referred to as the “troubles.”
What about the origins of St. Patrick’s Day? Well, the day is ultimately a religious holiday to celebrate the spread of Christianity to the Emerald Isle.
History.com reports, “St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated annually on March 17, the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink, and feast on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.
St. Patrick who lived during the fifth century is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped, but later returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people.
In the centuries following Patrick’s death (believed to have been on March 17, 461), the mythology surrounding his life became ever more ingrained in the Irish culture: Perhaps the most well-known legend of St. Patrick is that he explained the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) using the three leaves of a native Irish clover, the shamrock.”
Now you know a little bit more about St. Patrick’s Day. Feel free to share this information with your children who are forced to stay home for school because of the coronavirus. Remember the reason for the season when you tip back a nice dark Irish stout from your self-quarantine. Or as the Irish say: “sona st. la Patrick.