The past has always spoken to the Irish. With a legacy of anguish, the Irish often see the past in the frustrations of the present. A people under attack. Over four hundred years since the introduction of the Penal Laws. One hundred and seventy years since The Great Hunger. Exactly one hundred years since the Easter Rising. Eighteen years since the Good Friday Agreement. . . Ireland has spent hundreds of years trying to maintain a semblance of its own culture.
But for the diaspora, Ireland is not exactly a place trying desperately to retain its culture. On this St. Patrick’s Day, 2016 let’s ask ourselves, what does it mean to be Irish-American?
There has long been a tradition in the Irish-American community of the United States of forgetting. During The Great Hunger (or “Potato Famine”) the Irish tenant farmers that arrived on American shores shoeless, starved to desperation and emotionally broken brought with them the shame of their caste. So many relatives recount stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents who refused to speak of where they came from.
“My grandfather came from (County) Mayo. He never talked about it. . . For me, I saw him coming out of a blank past,” Historian Thomas Fleming once said. “One can only guess from his silence that there was a history of horror there.”
In America, the land of hope, an organic yet wholly unnatural portrait of the Irish has been created by Irish-Americans. Somewhat born from truth, in America the Irish are seen as happy fighters who love to “have a drop” (drink alcohol). Love to gab (talk). And with the cutest accent! Are humbly Catholic. Have wonderful writers and quite a few excellent actors and on St. Patrick’s Day, Americans have an excuse to drink, often to excess while wearing four-leaf clovers.
This has served the Irish-American community well. To be Irish is to be proud, now. The Irish-American community as a whole see that success in America comes to those who assimilate to its Anglo-American strategy of hard capitalism and strict adherence to economic policy.
If I could do anything for this St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to be able to help Irish-Americans understand that there is, and has been a fight for survival of Irish culture. If Irish-Americans can’t, or won’t look at history, then look at the present.
Easter Rising – An embarrassing banner was recently placed by the Irish government in commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, which began the successful independence movement from Britain. The Irish government, still to this day, is obviously heavily influenced by England in its treatment of the signatories of the Irish Proclamation of Independence. The banner, hung up in Dublin, is an attempt to affectively whitewash those that organized the Easter Rising. Erase them from history. Instead of including Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Countess Markievicz, Roger Casement and the other revolutionaries that inspired Ireland to stand against their British oppressors, they put up men who had nothing to do with it. Grattan, Parnell and O’Connell, all who fought for Irish independence well before 1916 are somewhat understandable (though they all died before 1916), but John Redmond was the head of the Irish Parliamentary Party that lost power due to the revolution and was considered pro-British in his attempt to string Ireland along with failed Home Rule acts. A recent video about the centenary to the 1916 Easter Rising features (as Orwellian as Orwellian can be) the Queen of England, Ian Paisley (a vehement anti-Catholic Evangelical minister), musicians Bono and Bob Geldof, and British Prime Minister David Cameron. For most Irish people, to ignore the true Irish revolutionaries of 1916 is to Anglicize Irish history, once again.
Gerry Adams – The struggle for Irish independence and the culture can be summed up simply by looking at Gerry Adams. Effectively tainted as the political wing (Sinn Fein) of a terrorist organization in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) by conservative English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Adams was eventually given an American passport and met with President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. But for many Irish, Adams “sold out” the independence movement by signing the Good Friday Agreement, which leaves power in the six northern counties to Britain. Adams has certainly benefited politically from the agreement, but the movement for Ireland to rule all of Ireland, including the northern counties currently ruled by England, has not. The violence mostly ended, it’s true. But what about freedom to rule one’s own territory?
Water – It should be a right. In many countries it is free, though we do have to pay for it in United States, though it’s quite cheap. In Ireland, a policy charging people exorbitant rates has been attempted to be put in place over the last couple years. Great protests have taken place against utility workers and politicians to no avail. After the recession of 2008-2009 crippled the “Celtic Tiger” economy, many Irish people cannot afford to pay their rent, no less expensive water. But the government is having to pay large sums to European banks for the bailout it agreed to and large cuts in social services due to the “austerity” movement have continued to make things worse.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, if you claim Irish heritage, have a green beer. Wear a shamrock and a stovepipe hat, but remember. Don’t forget. Try to remember that you are here because of the brutal English policy in Ireland that forced your ancestors to flee from their homeland. That although there was a famine on a crop of potatoes, England (the facts cannot be disclaimed) exported food that was harvested in Ireland to India and many other countries while millions of Irish died of starvation, millions more emigrated or died in “coffin ships” along the way, all while England ruled Ireland (see the Act of Union 1800). Remember that you are the result (offspring of a survivor) of what many historians call a genocidal economic policy by England to enforce the message that the famine “was sent by God to teach the Irish a lesson.” (Sir Charles Trevelyan).
Have you learned your lesson?