St. Patrick’s Day in America

Last year, I transferred over to Derry, Northern Ireland, to head up ModSquad’s new European Operations Centre. Being here helps me work more closely with many of our European clients, as I collaborate with them on strategic planning. I volunteered to transfer to Northern Ireland for the chance to work in a new environment and a wonderful opportunity to visit Europe, to which I had never travelled.

Growing up in the South, there wasn’t a big Irish-American community, certainly nothing like what big cities in the Northeast have. Our Irish heritage teachings were minimal at best. So when it came to St. Patrick’s Day, the most our teachers passed along was that the holiday was about leprechauns, pots of gold, and shamrocks. That’s what all the decorations were about, in any case. The children took it as a day to legally pinch anyone not wearing green.

St. Patrick's Day ParadeSo while it is possible that children in such cities as New York, Chicago, and Boston actually learned something about Ireland and perhaps even St. Patrick, the rest of the nation focuses on the parades (where apparently everyone is Irish for a day) and the drinking.

Having done a little research for this article, I see that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the holy trinity to the pagans in Ireland when he was attempting to convert them to Christianity. So we carry on that tradition by either wearing shamrocks or dressing in green, although I’m sure most people have no idea why.

I also recall the story of St. Patrick driving out the snakes from Ireland, but as many people like to point out, Ireland never had snakes. So at some point in history, the pagans of Ireland become associated with snakes. Again, this is not anything that people feel compelled to educate American children about, at least outside of private schools.

As I got older, everything I saw about St. Patrick’s Day was based around parades and drinking. The stereotypes ran amok and were prodded along by news stories and TV shows that mostly showed the Irish in a very narrow focus, usually nothing positive and certainly not with any historical depth. St. Patrick’s Day in America is pretty much an excuse to get hammered. Pretending you are Irish allows you some farcical reason to drink, drink a bit more, and, when you’re done with that, drink even more. This seems to be the case for most of America outside a few big cities with large Irish populations. There, they celebrate the good works the Irish have done, and continue to do, in America. For years the police and firefighters, traditional bulwarks for those of Irish ancestry, proudly led the parades, letting the citizens know who their public servants in underpaid and dangerous jobs were.

Now that I’ve settled in here in Ireland, I look forward to learning more about St. Patrick and other touchstones of Irish history, and to see how this celebration of Irish culture should be properly done.

Michael Marcantel
Account Manager

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