The color green has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the color green and its association with St Patrick’s Day grew. While not a legal holiday in the United States, the day is nonetheless widely recognized and observed throughout the country as a celebration of Irish and Irish-American culture. Celebrations include prominent displays of the color green, religious observances, numerous parades, and copious consumption of alcohol. The holiday has been celebrated in North America since the late 18th century. From 1820 to 1860, 1,956,557 Irish left Ireland to escape the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, many died crossing the ocean due to disease and dismal conditions. The immigrants who reached America settled in Boston, New York, and other cities where they lived in difficult conditions. But most managed to survive, and their descendants have become a vibrant part of American culture. Even before the famine, Ireland was a country of extreme poverty. Today there are 39.6 million American’s who claim Irish heritage.
March 17th has become the national day of celebration of all things Irish in the United States, and is celebrated by listening to “traditional” Irish music, wearing green clothing, green plastic jewelry, or green novelty hats adorned with shamrocks, leprechauns, maps of Ireland, long pipes, sheleighlies, and Celtic-style knotted crosses. Parades featuring bagpipes and drum corps are held across the country and everything is painted or dyed green including: pets, McDonald’s® “Shamrock Shakes”, the Chicago River and even beer. “Irish” food is consumed such as corned beef & cabbage, shepherd’s pie, Irish stew, colcannon, reuben sandwiches, soda bread, and of course, lots of beer. More “traditional” Irish-American families will attend a Catholic mass, depending what day of the week the holiday occurs on. One of the nice things about St. Patrick’s Day is that it’s not just celebrated by Irish-Americans (or those who think they’re Irish-Americans); at any celebration the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day people of all national origins will be wearing the green.
For many American families their past is slipping away. Those with knowledge of personal immigration tales are passing on, taking their family history with them to the grave. I firmly believe we need to record our stories, before there is no one left who remembers our family folklore; before there is no one left to tell us where we came from. In the nineteenth century many Irish American stories were lost, never committed to the annals of history. In the years after the Great Hunger, the Irish became a silent people. Memories of this devastating calamity were just too painful to recall. My husband’s fraternal grandmother, Mae Kelly, immigrated with her three sisters in the late 1800’s. The four Kelly girls settled on Chicago’s Southside. Always living with or very near to other family members they were a proud and private clan. As we approached the millennium, Lillian, my husband’s aunt was the surviving keeper of the “family secrets” and when she past in December of 2000 most of the family folklore was lost with her. She was never married, did not have children. I’ve retained and passed on stories to my children as I recall them. It seems that it is the women of the family that become the caretakers, of people and of their histories.
I invite you to craft a family tree, compose a family story or sign up for an account on Ancestor.com before there is no one left to now the stories of why we were green on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll bet you a sheleighlie that there are some empowering, inspirational and maybe even a few family skeletons that should be pulled out of the closet and made to dance! It’ll be a whale of a time!
“The songs of our ancestors are also the songs of our children”
― Philip Carr-Gomm
síocháin (Peace) m