TITLE: Sláinte chugat
DATE: 3/17/2005 09:57:00 AM
Dia dhuit! Conas atá tú? Nach breá an lá é? Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!*
Over the last few centuries, Ireland's biggest export has been people.
Acre for acre, the little island in the North Atlantic has among the largest diasporas in the world (I'm sorry, Sheila, I had to use that word. Please don't make fun of me). Among the areas in which that diaspora (eek) is most concentrated overseas is Boston, Massachusetts.
The Irish settled in great number near the Boston area. It's no surprise that many of our most famous names are Irish ones: Kennedy. Kerry. Brady (to be fair, he's from California; but it's fitting that the New England Patriots' answer to Joe Montana would still be an Irish Catholic). Our Mob is Irish (cf. Whitey Bulger). It has even been theorized that the Boston accent came from modifications of the Irish dialect. Even the Bostonian's supposed attachment to suffering--through winters, with the Red Sox--matches that which is mythologized in Irish culture. **
Further anecdotal evidence: growing up near Boston as I did, I sincerely thought Roman Catholicism was the majority religion in the United States.
There was a time in Irish history where even wearing green, as we do on St. Patrick's day, was a crime of rebellion punishable by death at the hands of the British. Irish in America, particularly in Boston, enjoyed their new country's freedom of expression by wearing green, particularly on the day when Ireland's patron saint, Patrick, had his feast. In fact, Boston's Irish-Americans taught Ireland herself how to party once political change had come to "The Auld Country"--many of southern Ireland's current St. Patrick's day celebrations are modelled after the joyous parades and parties of Boston.
Today, a name like O'Malley, or McMahon, or McGarry, if it identifies you as anything, for the most part identifies you as white and priveleged. But it has not always been thus. The Irish, when they first immigrated after the great Potato Famine in the 1820's, did not arrive as Kennedys. They were known as "white niggers". Signs that "No Irish Need Apply" were hung in businesses. The Irish starved due to oppression in their native country, and starved due to discrimination in their new land of plenty--for a very long time. But they continued to celebrate their culture and heritage, especially on the Feast of St. Patrick, a religious holiday that took on a much more lasting cultural significance--because Patrick represented not just holiness but Ireland herself. There was a time--a long time--when "Irish Pride" was the phrase of a radical, an activist, a nationalist, a separatist; when "Irish Pride" was a phrase of true defiance.
A friend of mine in school used to complain about St. Patrick's Day, saying that she felt left out because she had no Irish ancestry. But it isn't necessarily about Irish ancestry, either. It's about pride in one's culture and identity, no matter what it is. It's about the resolute and absolute determination to keep one's head held high, no matter what the circumstances.
Everybody can celebrate that.
* Hello. How are you? It's a beautiful day, isn't it? Happy St. Patrick's Day!
The title of this post, "Sláinte chugat," means "Good health to you" and is a common Irish toast.
** In fact, a direct link is made between Boston's baseball fans and Irish population in Roger Angell's breathtaking essay "Legends of the Fens", which I cannot urge strongly enough that you read.