St Patrick’s Day
March 17, 2012 11 Comments
I’m a good Lutheran so I don’t celebrate Saints’ days but there a few, St. Crispin/Crispians Day, All Saints Day, and of course, St. Patricks Day. I suspect it has become more of a holiday in the States than in Ireland itself.
We all know the conventional parts: The green beer and milkshakes, the green rivers, the parades, the green beer and so forth. There’s more to it than that.
Way back when my forebears went on a bit of a tear and founded an empire, we managed to conquer all or parts of England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and not least there’s this province in France named after us: Normandy. Yep. named for the Vikings. While we were over there in Ireland we founded a few settlements such as Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, and a few others. You see, Viking has two meanings. Yes, we were warriors, if you go by our missions, you could probably have called us marines but, we were also traders who like to buy and sell stuff. So when we left, we left the Irish some new towns, and probably some new kids too.
Anyway time moved along till shortly after the Conquest of England, the King decided he ought to have Ireland as well. This was mostly by the Marcher Lords but King Henry II was perfectly happy with the idea. This war lasted all through the centuries, the Tudors tried, Cromwell tried it, the expatriate Scottish nobles tried it. Ireland resisted them all, even causing Captain Boycott to try his new tactics. Ireland became independent in 1919. And you thought the American revolution was a long war.
Here’s where we slip back across the ocean. You remember I mentioned those expatriate Scots? They became one of our immigrant streams: the Scots-Irish. Many, many of them came to the southern colonies, and most became patriots during the revolution, afterward settling the Old South and the southern parts of the Old Northwest. They were a stubborn, independent lot, not willing to give up a jot of their independence, and imparting a good bit of that to all Americans.
Then in 1849 the potato crop failed in Ireland, and the country was starving, huge immigrant streams came to America searching for a better life. They didn’t get a warm welcome. The people saw that they would work for nearly nothing, they were catholics, probably needed a bath, and whatever else they could think of. The sign of the day was:
No Irish Need Apply
But the Irish persevered, eventually got better jobs and moved up. They were the laborers that built many of the railroads, including the Union Pacific.
But they did something else too. When the Civil War came along, they enlisted in droves, entire brigades of Irish from New York and other cities took the field. The most famous was the Irish Brigade of New York: 63rd New York Infantry, the 69th New York Infantry, and the 88th New York Infantry. The three New York regiments were soon joined by a predominately “Yankee” regiment from Massachusetts, the 29th Massachusetts. The 29th was never fond of being brigade with three Irish “Fenian” regiments from New York and soon after the Battle of Antietam the 29th was replaced by the 28th Massachusetts Infantry regiment, made up mostly of Irish Immigrants.
Incidentally there was a Confederate Irish brigade too, from Texas, I think.
And the Army that became famous in the Indian campaigns was mostly Irish, too.
And so the Irish earned their way into the heart and soul of America, where they reside today. So, as you lift that Guinness or John Jameson today, remember a people that fought for their freedom for almost a thousand years. And listen to one of the most famous of Irish-American tunes.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!!