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Kiss me, I'm Irish-American

February 24, 2011 - Erin O'Neill
With a first name that literally means “Ireland” in Gaelic, a last name that reflects my descendancy from the Emerald Isle’s high kings and my flaming red hair, which, of course, is all natural (OK, maybe not), one might figure that I’ve got a wee bit of the Irish in me blood.

Truth be told, if I actually tried to figure out the percentages, I would probably discover I’m more German than anything, with also some Scottish, French and English thrown in for good measure.

Basically, I’m a good ol’ American mutt. But it’s the roots of my Irish ancestry with which I most identify.

Which leads me to talk about one of my favorite holidays: St. Patrick’s Day.

What is actually a high holy day in the Catholic Church isn’t as big a deal in Ireland as it is here in the U.S. Over here we have parades and parties; I’m sure you can find a good sale on a mattress or a used car; and, of course, people from all walks of life getting tipsy on green beer.

On the one hand, I enjoy that on this day I can honestly lay claim to the fact that I am an Irish-American. I wave my green, white and orange flag proudly. I give gifts to my loved ones on St. Pat’s. I crank up the pipes and drums and do a jig around my living room with a corned beef sandwich in my hand.

But I also can’t help but feel a tinge of embarrassment about the holiday and how the Irish are reflected in the stereotypes. Honestly, I can’t think of another holiday where it is OK to make fun of an entire culture of people. Poke fun at Passover or ridicule during Ramadan? Unheard of!

Still, off-handed comments at the expense of the Irish prevail and are often overlooked and accepted. For example, speaking at the American Irish Historical Society recently, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who lives near the St.Patrick’s Day Parade route, said, “Normally, when I walk by this building, there are a bunch of people that are totally inebriated hanging out the window. I know that’s a stereotype about the Irish, but nevertheless, we Jews around the corner think this.” Good one Mike.

A lot of Irish immigrants began their lives in America as slave laborers and were often beaten, cheated out of wages and made fools of. That’s a lot to overcome, yet when March 17 rolls around, most of us are ready to make idiots of ourselves by donning the plastic shamrock glasses, silly hats, chugging an “IRA Car Bomb” at the local pub (heaven forbid!) and trying to get some unsuspecting guy or gal to kiss us “‘cuz we’re Irish.”

Perhaps it says something about the Irish that we are able to laugh at ourselves and there honestly isn’t a better class of people I’d like to party with. But when the “Holiday Where Everyone Is Irish” rolls around, don’t be surprised if I pass on the watered-down brews that have been tinted green. You might convince me to try a Shamrock Shake, however.

 
 

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