|Saint Patrick's Day in New York's Fifth Avemue, 1909.|
What has become of “my people’s” annual national and cultural holiday, Saint Patrick’s Day? Americans of Irish ancestry (and, ‘tis said, those who wish to be Irish) attempt to honor their heritage on a Catholic feast day, March 17, but the day now is as Irish as the Great Saint was himself, that is to say, NOT.
|Saint Patrick in traditional blue. |
The green came later.
|Baltimore Archbishop John Carroll, |
as painted by Gilbert Stuart.
Like most immigrant groups, we Irish have sought to retain memories though groups and events celebrating our origins and identity. Some Bostonians claim credit for the first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in 1737, organized by Boston’s “Irish Society” as a political protest against low social status and scarce jobs. After 1776, Bostonians began coupling the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration with the March 17 anniversary of the British leaving town after the Siege of Boston that year. What makes a better pan-historical mix than being Irish and/or beating the English in Beantown?
In New York City, the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade came on March 17, 1762, staged by Irish soldiers then serving in the British Army. Parade organizers claim that today’s, in 2011, marks the 250th time the grand procession will march up 5th Avenue. With its formal review by New York’s Archbishop Timothy Michael Dolan from the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral (considered by New Yorkers the mother church in the United States – Baltimoreans may quibble), the New York Parade is certainly one of the largest by number of participants in the world. (See photo from the 1909 parade above.)
In 1780, General Washington himself formalized the celebration by issuing an order allowing his troops to celebrate on March 17 “as an act of solidarity with the Irish in their fight for independence” and commended the Irish Parliament in their attempts “to remove those heavy and tyrannical oppressions on their trade” imposed by Great Britain. (Click here to see the handwritten original.)
|Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley with his band.|
In recent decades, the same relentless force of American commercialism that has turned Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even Halloween (all originally more solemn religious or national holidays) into shopping opportunities has focused on this observance of my heritage. It’s annoying and distracting, but some of us remember what the Great Saint brought to our forbearers.
The several strains of my family came to America, struggled, and (Deo gratia) succeeded, like many other immigrants. Today I am tremendously grateful for that, inordinately proud of my family and my people, and finally look forward to peace and prosperity on the entire island of Ireland. That party we throw with all of the Guinness and whiskey every year? We’re just trying to do our part for the Irish economy. Lord knows it could use the help.
David Durkin, a Washington attorney and cultural savant, hosts the best Saint Patrick's Day bash in DC. Visit him at his web site at OFWLaw.com.