The Mixed Blessings of St. Patrick’s Day

“Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.” 
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

I love a parade, and every March, I can’t help but feel a certain pride in my Irish heritage. It is celebrated everywhere, and if you think about it, there is much to celebrate! But there is a glitch. I don’t like the drinking. More specifically the day-drinking, and public intoxication, in front of the children. There I said it. The celebrations come from the noblest motives, I know. As does this blog post.

To begin, let’s acknowledge that really it is a small group who give the rest a bad name. For most of us, the St. Patrick’s day parade here in Elmhurst is good clean fun! Most families scramble up to the parade decked out in outrageous greens and sweaters.  We elbow for space on the curb of Spring Road, and eventually, joke and hob-nob with our new parade friends. We indulge the kids with candy and trinkets, then we stop by the neighbor’s party for a snack and a drink (or two), and we are back home by 4:00pm.

On this day, Irish or not, the strong community bond in our town is palpable. The warmth of friendship is so welcoming on this cold March afternoon that it literally warms the heart. We are happy. Indeed, there are many reasons to be filled with joy and Irish pride this time of year. Let us count the ways.

#1) Storytelling

 “We Irish prefer embroideries to plain cloth. To us Irish, memory is a canvas–stretched, primed, and ready for painting on. We love the “story” part of the word “history,” and we love it trimmed out with color and drama, ribbons and bows. Listen to our tunes, observe a Celtic scroll: we always decorate our essence.” 
― Frank Delaney, Tipperary

Ireland’s small population has produced a disproportionate amount of literature, poetry, and music.  Heck, according to author Thomas Cahill it was the Irish who saved civilization itself! Though there are critics of the book, few dispute the manner in which the Irish monks preserved the literature of the Roman Empire. And really, admit it, who can resist the quick wit of a classic Irish proverb?

In my large Irish-American family we receive our 10,000 hours of story-telling training around kitchen tables and living rooms throughout childhood. We hone the skills required to hold the attention of a room full of people who have the unspoken permission to criticize. The goal is to win them over through humor, interest, or if all else fails, inciting spite.  If you are trite, or dull, the room quickly interrupts.  You must have a point, and you must present it with interest.

Just last weekend, my 12-year niece received hours of this very training as she joined her aunts and cousins for dinner, a show and “a visit” back at my house. She bravely shared a hilarious story of when her shoe-lace was caught on an automatic door at a funeral home where she was recently attending a wake. As the door opened, she fell and was dragged against her will, let out a screech (also against her will) and found herself facing a room full of adults who glanced up and then politely ignored her. She mustered up the dignity to quietly exit the room.  She’s definitely on the right track! This leads to another great reason to celebrate Irish heritage.

#2) Family, Clans, and Community

“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” -Irish proverb

“I’ve never seen a nation more quick at finding joy in a sad situation than the Irish at a funeral.” 
― E.A. Bucchianeri, Vocation of a Gadfly

You don’t have to be Irish to enjoy the vitality of a group. Many nationalities gather around themselves in support of one another, and Irish-Americans have done this for over a century. Strong, life-long relationships are good for our health and good for our soul.

I had the good fortune to receive confidence and pride from the close-knit, Irish-American neighborhood where I was raised. Early on I learned the importance of community (both religious and secular), responsibility for yourself and your neighbor, and the key role of families.  So many of the Irish stories in books and movies, for better or worse, revolve around the community. The Irish experience is often told amongst the backdrop of the eyes and ears of the townspeople. We cause each other joy, and we cause each other pain. But we are together.

“If there were only three Irishmen in the world you’d find two of them in a corner talking about the other.” 

#3) Endurance and Resilience

“It is not to political leaders our people must look, but to themselves. Leaders are but individuals, and individuals are imperfect, liable to error and weakness. The strength of the nation will be the strength of the spirit of the whole people.” 
Michael Collins, A Path to Freedom

Most of us have an awareness of or can recall the news stories regarding “The Troubles” in Ireland. We also know of the Good Friday Agreement and the hard-fought resolution of peace. I would guess that many Americans would be surprised at the true extent of oppression and poverty Ireland endured for centuries under English rule.  (I’ll admit that it is far worse than I had realized.)  Many Irish and Irish-Americans find pride in the strength required to endure, accept and eventually overcome this past.  Generational suffering and emigration are not unique to the Irish;  yet, this is our story of resilience, and this our day to celebrate it. I get that.

#4) Irish-American Pride

“One was definitely Irish….The second man was unmistakably American. It wasn’t so much his tan or dark hair that gave him away as for how he held himself. He had an eager air, as though the world was full of possibility. Irish people never looked like that.”
― Rachael English, Going Back

It is a noble undertaking. By celebrating our past, we honor all of those traditions and sacrifices. Yet we can do a disservice in how we celebrate. I live a few blocks from the parade route, and I cringe as the day goes on and the antics worsen.  When my kids were young,  I tried to shield them from it. The bottom line is that it is uncomfortable and disturbing for a child to see the adults around them drunk. In addition, if you have teenagers, this can make your job a whole lot harder. There is nothing teenagers love more than adult hypocrisy.  As my kids got older, I encouraged conversations about what we saw. I questioned whether or not this honored our heritage.

When I was in college, I’d spend my summers working downtown while living at home. Since I had many siblings, we’d often spend Sunday mornings after mass discussing the shenanigans of the night before. We’d recap any fights that might have occurred, (physical or otherwise). We’d whisper about who made-out with who (for the record, this meant kissing.) Who stayed out too late, who danced with who, who stumbled, who fell, who told a great story, who made us laugh, who got in trouble and who got away with something this time. My mother, always busy in the kitchen, would listen and shake her head.

“Mr. Booze wins again!” she’d declare with the wisdom of a woman who had raised eleven children. Eventually, I recognized the simple truth in these words. If left unchecked, alcohol easily switches from ally to adversary. If left unchecked, it is easy to let the “fun” ruin all of the fun.

“I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.” 
― Oscar Wilde

 “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” 
― Oscar Wilde

 Wishing you and your family a happy St. Patrick’s day!

6 thoughts on “The Mixed Blessings of St. Patrick’s Day

  1. Ok, quit your job and write a book.
    Your words are filled with wonderful observations, insights, intellect, warmth, and of course wit.

    See you on St. Patrick’s Day! I’ll bring the Baily’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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