Irish history key to holiday |

Irish history key to holiday

Robert Stern

The Irish are a proud people and no day signifies this more than St. Patrick’s Day. But for all the revelry in Ireland, the American Irish may have them beat.

“The reason I think it’s in much grander form out here is we’re talking about people who are descendants of immigrants and are really proud of their Irish heritage,” said Stan Freeman, a native of County Kildare, Ireland. “I think it is great that they go a little overboard.”

Fran Lennon, a native of Dublin, Ireland and owner of Mulligan’s Irish Pub agrees. He said he has friends from Ireland who travel to New York and Chicago just to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

But that does not mean St. Patrick’s Day is not important in the land of its birth.

Folks in Ireland don’t dye their beer green. They don’t dye their rivers green, but that doesn’t preclude a celebration. It is a religious holiday and most Irish faithfully attend church, but attending parades, sporting events and going to the pub are also a part of the holiday.

St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, is a day of celebration for the patron saint who brought Christianity to Ireland in 432.

“The whole history of Ireland is based on the history of Christianity coming to Ireland,” said Father John Grace, native of County Tipperary, Ireland. Father Grace retired from St. Theresa’s in 1993.

Schools in Ireland teach the history of St. Patrick at a very early age.

Sold into slavery, St. Patrick herded sheep for six years before escaping to Britain. He studied the Catholic religion for 15 years and returned to Ireland a priest, where he took on the Druids and earned Catholic converts. It is believed St. Patrick’s father was a centurion from Rome and his mother was from Wales or Scotland.

While Leprechauns, rainbows and pots of gold may be reflective of Irish folklore, they have nothing to do with St. Patrick’s Day. The shamrock and wearing of the green, however, are a different story. St. Patrick used the shamrock to help teach Christianity, each leaf representing three people in one God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The wearing of the green is an emblem of Irish pride. Ireland is known for its 40 shades of green, a result of its wet climate.

“If you are in a plane and you look down at Ireland, there are all these shades of green,” Freeman said.

The Irish have historically faced hard economic times such as the potato famine which began in the 1840s. As American immigrants during the turn of the century, they faced discrimination. In the 1980s many young, educated Irish left the country in what was called the brain drain, because a lack of jobs. Perhaps these hardships and others are what have generated such a strong bond among the Irish.

Freeman left Ireland in 1980 and immigrated to America in 1982. When he got off the plane the immigration officer, who looked and sounded American said, “I’m Irish too.”

“It’s probably something hereditary,” Lennon said. “It’s something built into you.”

Since the mid 1990s, the economic climate in Ireland, known as the “Celtic Tiger” and fueled by the high-tech industry, has taken a positive turn. Although the Irish have left their native land for years in search of a better life, the opposite is occurring today and tourism has reached an all time high, Freeman said.

American Irish are so proud of their roots that they often travel to Ireland to explore their heritage.

“Everyone is proud to say they are of Irish descent,” Grace said.

Every summer at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, American tourists pack the library looking up their ancestral records, he added.

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