Thursday, March 17, 2005

I almost missed St. Patty's day

Now, there are many reasons why one could pass the entire day of March 17th and not realize that it was St. Patrick's Day.
1. In England, the holiday is about as important as the 4th of July. Because England is not a Catholic nation, nor has its history with the Irish been rosy, there has been almost no hint of it on TV, in stores, in green clothing, etc.. Notable exceptions are in those areas with strong Irish immigrant communities (inner-city Birmingham being one).

2. Having grown up in smalltown Alabama, there were about as many Catholics as there were Jews around, so St. Patrick's Day had almost no significance. Sure, you see the occasional shamrocks, leprechauns, and many folks feel obliged to wear something green, but it doesn't count as a holiday in any sense of the word in Moulton. This also brings me to another sore subject, that of Scots-Irish heritage (which many Southerners claim). Many of these Alabamians descended from Scots-Irish assume that their ancestors were the ones who instituted St. Patty's Day oh so many years ago. I certainly did growing up. Most are ignorant of the fact, as I was, that any Irish heritage they could lay claim was Northern Irish, aka Ulster Scots, aka Scots brought to Northern Ireland thanks to the British, aka the ones that are staunchly anti-Catholic, anti-St. Patrick, and anti-IRA. Even more disappointing is the fact that my Scottish ancestors were almost certainly "lowland Scots" who (a) didn't speak Gaelic, but a dialect close to English (Scots), (b) didn't wear kilts and tartans and all that jazz. Sure, those things have come to be associated with Scotland, but they belong to the Scottish Highlanders. But, what the hay, we Americans have never let a little thing like history keep us from having a little fun. Kind of brings into question the whole "Highland Games" thing, too. I'm tired of looking for any more links on the Scots-Irish immigration to America, so here is a sub-par one.

There are, of course, plenty of Irish Americans around, particularly around Boston but also in just about every corner of America. Many of them keep close tabs with the Emerald Isle. The ties between Boston and Ireland are still so strong, in fact, that the cheapest and most frequent service to Ireland from the U.S. is Aer Lingus airlines from Boston to Dublin (or Shannon). These people are the ones who really get into St. Patty's Day.

It is worth noting, however, that for the most part St. Patrick's Day is a religious holiday in Ireland (with SPD being a day to break the fast of Lent), whereas in America it is more of a celebration and an excuse to publicly parade everything ever associated with Ireland. My favorite Irish American who loves to poke fun at his ancestry (and everything else for that matter) is Conan O'Brien. It's almost too good to be true -- his name is Irish, he is Catholic, he is from Boston, he is red-headed. I was reminded today of a thing he did on his show, Late Night With Conan O'Brien, a couple of years ago when he went to Ireland to see the land of his ancestors. He found a small castle on a tiny peninsula in Ireland called "O'Brien Castle". As he stood in front of the castle, wind howling at at least 50 mph in the bitter cold, barely able to stand up, he said, "This is O'Brien Castle... I can't imagine why my ancestors left this place." And this morning, as the winds got up to an ungodly ferocity (as they often do here) I was asking myself the same question. The other incredibly funny thing that Conan did that episode was to go into an Irish elementary school classroom and teach the kids interesting facts like "the most famous Irish American is... Shaquille O'Neal."

But, in all fairness, by the afternoon today was the most spring-like of any thus far. Sunny, a little on the cold side, but good enough to allow Mary, Helen, and me (and every dog around here that needed to relieve itself) to enjoy a walk in the Warley Woods near our house.

Mary's parents arrive in 4 days. We can't wait!


At 2:00 PM, Blogger Mommy of Boys said...

Top o' the morning to ya,

Well, that's more information on St. Patrick's Day than I ever wanted to know, but I do appreciate all your hard work in research.

Hope you have fun with the O'Robinsons!


At 8:00 PM, Blogger Barclay said...

it's also my aunt's birthday.



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