In the sobering day following St. Patrick's Day, lots of people are emerging with bloodshot eyes and bottles of water after a night of shenanigans and debauchery. While I was growing up, this was the holiday I looked forward to (after birthdays and Christmas, of course) because we got to hear fun stories about "the motherland" and embrace our Irish heritage. I recall my mother cutting out construction-paper shamrocks and leaving them all over the house the night before with small treats or presents on each one. It was like an easter egg hunt where we had to look all over the house to see where the "leprechauns" hid all our presents, hence one of my favorite holidays.
When I got older and started to read history books about the treatment of the Irish by the British government and then the oppression they faced after immigrating to America, I became very bitter at the exclaimations "everyone's Irish for a day!" I thought, "How dare you! You have no idea the oppression we faced by the British for hundreds (if not thousands) of years, of how we were treated no better than black slaves while working for railroads and mines in post-civil war America. You have no idea how it felt to be called "stupid Mick" or have animals intelligence attributed to your kind." Why do people associate the Irish with getting as drunk as possible and doing stupid things on a holiday for our patron saint?! I was angry, and the holiday just rubbed salt in the open wound.
In recent years, I've allowed the wound to heal by just ignoring all the craziness around me, or joining in the fun (if you can't beat them, join them afterall.) I did my fair share of drinking green beer and singing along to the pub songs, and even participated in a cabaret-style show the last four years all about celtic music and humor, encouraging people to drink up and be merry! At one point, I sat back to reflect on why we do the things we do, and here are some things that have influenced my present conclusions:
I watched a wonderful documentary last night while feigning homework about the Irish influence on American history. They immigrated from Ireland en masse, especially during and after the Great Potato Famine of the 1840's and 1850's. This created huge slums in the major cities of poor, uneducated and supposedly disease-ridden Irish immigrants everywhere. They were a plague to social services and nuisance to locals who had already been established there.
Around the American Civil War, the huge amounts of stereotypically stubborn and loyal Irish were recruited on both sides to fight for their new home. In the documentary, they mentioned a general that fought for the South and won some courageous battles, but clearly it didn't help them win the war. An anonymous soldier was quoted after the surrender at Appomattox that the North won simply because they had more Irish, which made me very proud!
After the Civil war, many Irish began to gain prestige amongst the civil communities: they were the policemen (hence Paddy Wagon), firemen, legislatures, and in every branch of the government. There were boxers like John Lawrence Sullivan who hero-ized men for their courage and persistence. There was Diamond Jim, famous for silver and copper mining that was one of the richest men in his time. There was "Mother" Mary Harris Jones who helped end oppression by creating better working conditions, pay, and rights for miners in the United States, among the many famous Irishmen in our country's history.
When Ireland finally gained it's independance from England in 1922, the millions of Irish in America finally were proud to be who they are, and hence began the huge celebrations for the patron saint's day. Now, they dye the river in Chicago green, in Butte, Montana there's always been a huge parade (the most Irish city in America per capita - the second is Boston) and copious amounts of liquor served everywhere.
**sidenote** ironically, the Irish communities within the United States, in order to portray a better image of the Irishman, discouraged the consumption of alcohol long ago, also discouraged any kind of disruptive behavior like promiscuity and drug use. I find this funny since nowadays the first thing someone thinks of for St. Patrick's day is going to the bar, where you wouldn't find many Irishmen.
So on this St. Patrick's day, I sent cards to my friends and family telling them how much I love them and hoping them a blessed year, did some homework, then went to bed. No alcohol involved for me!
I hope you all had a wonderful St. Patrick's day and a blessed year. May you be half an hour in heaven before the devil knows you're dead!