Don’t forget to wear your bit of green and enjoy your beef and cabbage tomorrow on St. Patrick’s Day. Chicago will carry on the tradition of turning the river green and those who party tomorrow night will drink green beer. Other cities will celebrate the day with traditional parades and festivities. Like Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day began as a religious holy day, but has long since become a global celebration of Irish culture—and celebrated by everyone, not just the Irish.
Irish immigrants (known as Scots-Irish) were among the first to come to the US. Charles Carroll who signed the Declaration of Independence, was a descendant of Irish nobility in County Tipperary. Several other signers, Matthew Thornton, George Taylor and James Smith were all born in Ireland. A British major general during the American Revolution testified at the House of Commons…“half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland.”
From 1820 to 1860, nearly two million Irish immigrants came to America. They came in what were known as “coffin ships” (many died crossing the ocean). They were escaping the Great Irish Famine, but the “land of the brave and the free” was not very welcoming or accommodating. Irish immigrants were forced to live in “Irish towns” or “Shanty towns” in the major cities. Ads for employment often included “No Irish Need Apply.” Living conditions were despicable. Eighty percent of all infants born to Irish immigrants in New York City during this period died. The Chicago Post wrote, “The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses…Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country.” Sound familiar?
“In 1850 at the crest of the Potato Famine immigration, Orestes Brownson, a celebrated convert to Catholicism stated: ‘Out of the narrow lanes, dirty streets, damp cellars, and suffocating garrets, will come forth some of the noblest sons of our country, whom she will delight to own and honor’.” That prophecy came true less than a half century later. Irish Americans had moved from the despised and the down-trodden to the highest levels of government, including the oval office.
As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, wearing our bit of green and drinking our green beer, let’s pause to remember how Irish immigrants were treated and think about our attitude and behavior toward immigrants today. Every person in America today (with the exception of native Americans, and we’re not even sure about them) is a son or daughter of an immigrant.
|Conversing with Oscar Wilde in Ireland--2003|