A Catholic Monthly Magazine

St Patrick’s Day

by Anne Kerrigan

In recent months, there has been much written about researching one’s DNA. Ancestry DNA kits must have been very popular Christmas gifts, since almost every person in my office either received a DNA kit or gave one to a family member as a gift!

"On St Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish."
Irish saying

Since DNA is now so topical, a bit of personal family history might be helpful here. I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighbourhood in the Bronx. Literally, almost everyone was Irish-born or of Irish descent. My own maiden name was McKee, which is very Irish, but nobody in my family ever talked about any Irish heritage or any connection to the ‘Old Sod.’ A grandmother was born in Germany, but nobody in the family seemed to have any information about any of the other grandparents. I guess I just assumed I was Irish because of my name and because I was surrounded by Irish people as well as by a constant barrage of Irish music in the neighbourhood.

So, when the Ancestry DNA kits became popular a few years ago, I decided to find out once and for all whether or not I was Irish. The results took approximately two months, and I eventually even forgot I mailed the specimen. Then, when America On Line announced “You’ve got mail!” and I saw it was from Ancestry, I opened it with some trepidation. Truth became clear. I was 58% Irish and had a smattering from various places in Europe, Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula. At least now I could claim some Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day instead of always claiming my Irish ancestry based on my husband’s family.

But, I have a love/hate relationship with the day.

I love St Patrick’s Day

I love the music, festivities, shamrocks, green cupcakes, corned beef and cabbage, soda bread, and the proliferation of all things green. The Irish Catholic neighbourhood of my youth greatly influenced my love of all things Irish. My Roman Catholic faith was nurtured there. The nuns at our local Catholic school were just wonderful and encouraged each of us to live a moral life in a world which would not always be ethical. I am so grateful for that foundation, which has served me well over the years.

When my daughter, Kathleen, obtained her Masters degree in History with a thesis based on Irish history, I became more learned about the Irish heroes of ancient times, strengthening my ties to my Irish roots. Those famous Irish names of olden days became more familiar to me and I developed a deeper awareness of the Irish struggle for independence. Since I also love history, just as Kathleen did, I cherished the opportunity to become more knowledgeable about my own Irish roots. Reading about those ancient heroes still has the ability to instil pride in me.

Our Boulevard Avenue neighbours, including neighbourhood friends and occasionally relatives, were also Irish, and we spent many a day and evening singing all the Irish fight songs and ballads well into the night. It was such fun! Laughter was an important part of our get-togethers.

I hate St Patrick’s Day

I hate that culturally, St. Patrick’s Day is presented as a drink fest. Almost every ad for St. Patrick’s Day is embellished with beer steins overflowing with frothy suds. The implication is almost always that the Irish are a group of people who just love to drink too much on St Patrick’s Day and even thereafter. Drinking becomes a reason for St Patrick’s Day celebrations. Drinking and the Irish become synonymous with each other and that offends me. It is racism and profiling at its worst. Around St Patrick’s Day, the plaques, tee-shirts, mugs, banners, ads, and slogans all reinforce the idea of the drinking Irish. Culturally, these stereotypical advertisements contribute to cultural defamation.

I am sure there are some Irish people dealing with alcoholism, just as people of other nationalities deal with that addiction scourge. It is sad for all involved and I wish it were not so. My feelings about this Irish profiling help me to understand the pain that racist comments against any culture inflict on the people involved.

I wish that the plaques, slogans, and ads would also highlight the many lovely Irish prayers and Irish spirituality. But the beer ads swamp the prayers, and that makes me sad.

So, it is with some trepidation that I wish you a happy St Patrick's Day.

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

An Irish Blessing

Tagged as:

Comments are closed.