As a kid, I took great pride in my Irish heritage. When we graphed our lineage in middle school, my chart was 88% green (Irish). As I got to know more about my family, I learned that one of my great-grandfathers was the first Irish mayor of Cambridge, and that another great-grandfather delivered all of the Kennedy children. I take great pride in my Irish heritage, and continue to explore and discover more about my family history. It is awesome to think of the world that my ancestors lived in, and the strides that they took to better their lives and the lives of their decedents.
This pride in my heritage is never as grand as on St. Patrick’s Day. This holiday is a day when Americans toast the Irish while eating corned beef and cabbage. (We do Rubens, in our house.) South Boston and New York hold parades that fill the streets with green and “everyone is Irish on St Patrick’s Day.”
When I went to Ireland in college, I was more than a little surprised at the lack of enthusiasm with which the holiday was met. I was expecting parades in every town, and shamrocks proudly displayed on storefront windows. In the tiny town of Kenmare, St Patrick’s Day was about as big a holiday as Labor Day is in Westborough. When I asked them why, a local smirked, “Its a holiday celebrating the day that my ancestors were forced to give up their religion.” For when we celebrate the day that St. Patrick drove the “snakes” out of Ireland, we are celebrating the day that the last pagan was driven from the Emerald Isle. My sampling was certainly not vast or varied, but it was certainly conclusive: St Patrick’s Day is a bigger deal in The States than it is in Ireland. Here, it is a day to celebrate our heritage and the great impact that the Irish had on America.
Tonight, my family toast my ancestors, and thank them for fighting through the poverty and prejudice along their journey. They faced persecution and poverty in their homeland, and came to America with the ambition climbing the socioeconomic ladder standing before so many immigrants of that time. I hope that they would be proud of my family; my grandfather and father started a family business that now also employs my mother, husband and brother. Our life is comfortable and easy compared to the labors of the potato farmers. So tonight, I’ll snuggle my boys and smile in gratitude for all that those who came before me did to pave the way.