English: Irish Celtic Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
St. Patrick’s Day already. One of the favorite American holidays, but why is that? Well part of it might be that there are more Irish here than there are in Ireland. That’s true but it’s not the whole answer, because for one day we all turn Irish (Yes the African-Americans give a whole new meaning to Black Irish) and the answer to that is buried in our history.
One of our pre-revolutionary immigrant stream were the Scots-Irish left over from Cromwell’s time, more on that later. The big immigration stream started with the Potato Famine, and it’s never really stopped. But the Irish were different, they were our first predominantly Catholic immigrants (in large numbers) and there were simply so many of them that they distorted the labor market for years. Most of the manual work done in industrializing America was done by the Irish, since that time many of our big city police and fire departments have been Irish, and are to this day as are lots of Federal Law enforcement agencies. And the military too has been a home to them, to the point that there was a small uproar during World War II when somebody said that England couldn’t have won without her two allies: the Irish and Texas. And so for a long time, we’ve been proud to share the country with them, and party with them as well.
The Chicago River on St. Pat’s Day
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 brigaded 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 who fought for their freedom for almost a thousand years. And listen to one of the most famous of Irish-American tunes.
A friend of mine, Laura from Catholic Cravings published a prayer of her Irish Great Grandfather’s from the 1950s, and that is another thing to respect in the Irish, their stubborn Christianity.
O Most Sacred and Most Loving Heart of Jesus, to which the Irish nation is most solemnly dedicated, preserve our nation in faith, in purity, and in charity. Through all its trials, its sorrows, its persecutions in the past it has remained faithful to the teaching of its great Apostle, St Patrick.
May the former glory of its apostolic faith again appear. May it become again the seat of learning and religion. May the rising generation see its rights restored. May the zeal of its priesthood increase. May the purity of its daughters preserve its stainless character. May the honour of its sons remained unsullied.
May the evil of intemperance cease. May the spirit of infidelity and rationalism never reach its shores. May its attachment to the See of Peter and its obedience to ecclesiastical superiors never suffer diminution. May sanctity be its atmosphere.
And may it daily render greater glory and honour to thee, Most Sacred Heart, to which every true Irish heart is, and will ever be, most devotedly attached. Amen.
God save Ireland, and bless her Bishops, priests, and religious; her leaders, her friends, and her people everywhere.