From Nellie Bly to Neil Armstrong to me, Irish Americans have helped to shape America. At the very beginning of our nation Irish immigrants helped flesh out the Theory of Democracy and bring about the formation of a new style of Government of the people. The Irish are deeply woven into the fabric of American life. It’s no wonder we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with all the fervor and passion as our families across the pond.
The Irish immigrant came to America as far back as the Revolutionary War and their descendants have continued to blend into the American culture so fully that it’s hard to know where one Irishman begins and American-man ends. (Ameriman?) It was the Irish Immigrants goal to become part of the American society and leave behind the tyranny of British rule and oppression. They wanted a better life for themselves and for their kin and sacrificed nearly everything to achieve it. It’s no wonder they dove so hard into becoming American that they changed the very nature of America.
A nation of White Anglo Saxon Protestants suddenly had to confront the idea of White Anglo Catholics, which was a terrible shock to the establishment. It meant that things were going to change and very few felt that America needed to change. So the Irish were bullied, beaten, impoverished and frankly told their kind wasn’t welcome. It didn’t stop them though. The Irish kept coming through sheer determination, stubbornness or a misunderstanding of local laws and always met with a wink and a smile.
It wasn’t long before the Irish were running whole police departments, fire departments, and local governments and so on and so forth as we all know. They understood the need to provide a support structure within their own communities to rise up and get a solid foothold in the American Dream. It wasn’t easy and unfortunately, it wasn’t always moral. There were certainly times when the Irish were less than tolerant of other races, creeds or religious beliefs. A fact that I’m not proud of, even when it rears its ugly head in today’s society. The Irish are certainly not above sin. If anything, we have the capacity to excel in sin.
However, for all our faults, the Irish have always yearned for that most precious American value, Freedom; Freedom from any form of tyranny and its vile wages. It is the Irish nature to buck authority, to question the values of government, to seek out meaning in the toils of everyday living. The Irish bear the weight of the worries of the country on their shoulders with a wry sense of humor and a tear in their eye. The Irish passions are furious for justice among people and a drink in every hand. (Barring any pre-disposition to alcoholism of course.)
I know Irish from every political party and background you can think of and they all live and die by their beliefs and it takes a mighty shaking for them to change their minds at times. Sometimes their Irish stubbornness gets the better of them and they have to learn their lesson the hard way, but that’s how it’s always been for the Irish in America; the hard way. It’s that hard way through brought us the likes of The Roosevelt’s, The Kennedy’s, The Henry Ford’s, the Bill Gates, the other 33.3 million Americans—10.5% of the total population— that reported Irish ancestry in the 2013 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. There’s only 6.4 Million Irishmen in Ireland!
There’s no one right way to be Irish. You don’t have to speak Gaelic or have lived in Ireland for an extended period. You just have to know some of your history, be proud of your heritage, know who your Great Aunts and Uncles and Great Great Grand-Parents were, and why they came to America in the first place. On St. Patrick’s Day, you don’t even have to have a chromosome of Irish genetics in you to be considered Irish. You just have to respect your immigrant past, be passionate, loving, and strive for the freedoms America has promised for the betterment of your progeny.
So Happy St. Patrick’s Day 2016! Cheers!