Erin Go Blah

Been awhile since I’ve written here. It’s certainly not because I’m not writing. Indeed, I’m working on essays and stories and the start of my thesis, on top of my schoolwork. This has become, I suppose, the space in which I write when I have something big and timely to say.

I’ve had my head bitten off before for bringing up this subject. I particularly don’t enjoy being figuratively decapitated, but if there’s anything I’m learning about writing, it’s the need to set aside ego in deference to the truth.

And the truth is this: St. Patrick’s Day is kind of sucky.

Chihuahua wearing a green St. Patrick's Day top hat, surrounded by four-leaf clovers.

And it sucks even more to be a pet on St. Patrick’s Day. Credit: Faith Goble via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/grafixer/

Let’s take a good, hard look at how St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated. It’s wearing green, dyeing random things green, pinching people if they don’t wear green, and getting ridiculously drunk. All of which has very little to do with Ireland.

Very little. But, I climb up my family tree, and see that it’s in the Irish branches where we’ve had the greatest difficulties with alcohol. I don’t find anything particularly amusing about alcoholism, especially as, in my experience, it leads to abuse, and it seems pretty awful to have your ethnic identity, or even part of it, not just associated, but equated with such.

But let’s try striping off all the leprechauns and debauchery and 50% off all O’Burgers for one day only. What is the true story of St. Patrick’s Day?

It’s about an Englishman who sails off to Ireland and pushes everyone to drop their indigenous religion in favor of the religion that’s taking hold in England. Seems to be more about England’s dominance over Ireland than anything, and if you study Irish history at all, you know that became an ugly story indeed.

“Ah, but it’s a celebration of the Irish in America, so let it be a celebration of us.” Okay, well, what does that look like? You had a group come over as they sought refuge from tyranny (because, c’mon, do you honestly think that the only thing the Irish could eat was potatoes, and that the starvation  had nothing to do with the economic policies of England,) but this group was a bunch of immigrants. In America, that translates to “undesirables.” And the easiest way to mark an undesirable in America is to say that they are less than, i.e. to say they are not white, and thus are not afforded the privileges of being white in America. And that’s how it remained until it was no longer advantageous to the powers that be to maintain that paradigm, and so then the Irish were included in the construct of whiteness. Came in handy to have those extra numbers on hand to oppress other groups.

So, yeah, call me a killjoy. Bite my head off.

I’m not here to rain on everyone’s green-soaked parade. It’s just, there are so many better ways to honor Ireland if one wishes to do so. Study the history. I mean, actually go and check out a book from the library on Irish history. Or read some Wilde or Yeats or Joyce. Contemplate the fact that a nation that struggled under poverty and foreign domination for so long is now amongst the most forward-thinking and well-to-do countries in the world.

I guess what I don’t get about St. Patrick’s Day, as it’s celebrated in the United States, is that it could be an opportunity for education, and honor, and celebration, but instead, it’s reduced to caricature and consumerism and crossing your fingers that everyone has the bloody sense to use a designated driver.

I suppose my problem is that I’m an idealist, or an optimist – either one will get you in trouble. I look about me and see that we are capable of doing so much better.

(By the way, the whole green thing? Blue is the color of Ireland.)

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About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 17 March, 2015, in Commentary, Personal life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with most of that. I’ve never seen the appeal of St. Patrick’s Day, though after getting pinched all the time in grade school I now wear green every year. I’ve been told it’s my duty anyway since I’m of Irish-Italian heritage. 😛

    I never go to bars but would not make a special trip to drink green beer, regardless, because it looks disgusting. Maybe because I used to live literally across the street from an Irish pub and the door faced my front porch, I have had quite enough drunken revelry by proxy, even at 15 feet away. The sound, sight, and smell of people overindulging and vomiting in front of my home does not evoke fond feelings.

    I think the green comes from the fact that Ireland is called the Emerald Isle.

    Also, though I am generally not one to dress up animals, that is a seriously cute chihuahua in the picture.

  2. Blue and gold are the colors of our ancestors. The green is a very recent addition. I prefer the blue and gold.

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