|Seamus, age 10, and his father in Drumcliff, County Sligo, where W.B. Yeats is buried.|
Why I Don't Celebrate St. Patrick's Day
- Until the 1970s, St. Patrick's Day in Ireland was a minor religious holiday.
- The first St. Patrick's Day parades were held in the U.S.
- St. Patrick's color was blue, not green.
- St. Patrick's Day was a dry holiday in Ireland until about the 1970s.
- St. Patrick may not even have been Irish.
- The shamrock is a popular Irish symbol, but not the symbol of Ireland.
As a kid, I already had an aversion to St. Patrick's Day. I never wore a green shirt to school on the holiday, a protest that without fail elicited pinches from my classmates -- and even confusion from my teachers. "But your name is Seamus," they'd say, dumbfounded, thinking I'd forgotten the day.
Like a lot of Irish Americans, my name offered the first lesson about my heritage. When your name is frequently mispronounced, you have little choice but to find out where it comes from. (See-mus? Shah-mus?
Shameless?) My sister's name is Cáitrín (mind the accents!). That sparked our curiosity about our origins, notwithstanding the occasional butchered pronunciation over the loudspeaker at roll call.
My cultural education in Irish-American-ness came primarily from my parents and grandparents. That meant reading Irish literature from a young age. It meant pulling a Michael Collins biography down from the shelf and peppering my dad with questions about the Easter Rising. Why was the country divided by North and South? I learned that Ireland's flag, which flies outside of bars on March 17 -- the one with white between the orange and green -- was really a statement about peace between the two sides.
It meant family trips were often occasions for lessons about Irish history or current events or folklore, like the story of the famous one-eyed giant who roamed Tory Island. (I think I still believed that one after I knew the Santa Claus ruse was up.) It meant learning to play the violin and veering away from the Suzuki method to the jigs and reels. It meant studying for a summer at a school in County Donegal in a Gaeltacht, a region where the predominant language is Irish. It meant being asked to memorize William Butler Yeats' poem "Easter 1916" for a high school English class. The Irish struggle for independence Yeats writes about felt like distant past -- it was harrowing to find out that it wasn't so long ago. "Too long a sacrifice/Can make a stone of a heart," I remember reciting.
And it meant looking up to my grandfather, Eoin McKiernan, the father of nine kids (Deirdre, Brendan, Fergus, Ethna, Gillisa, Grania, Nuala, Liadan and my father, Kevin). My grandfather, a scholar who was named one of America's greatest Irish Americans of the 20th century, made it his life's work to teach Irish Americans about where they came from. To do this, he founded the Irish American Cultural Institute, which awarded grants to Irish writers, composers, artists, and Irish-language initiatives, including historical tours to the Emerald Isle and Irish language classes. (In fact, I recently learned that long before Seamus Heaney was a Nobel laureate, my grandfather gave him a writer's grant.) He was recognized internationally for his work and invited to the White House on several occasions. Princess Grace of Monaco chaired his Institute.
Forgive the family stuff, which can be boring. But I mention it because St. Patrick's Day is upon us. Today the river in Chicago is dyed green, parades are planned across the country, and people are ready to party. But when I walk around today, I won't be seeing the fullness of my heritage on display. I'm trying to keep in mind what Yeats, arguably the greatest poet in the 20th century, wrote about a sense of solidarity "wherever green is worn." I don't think he meant the annual buffoonery in sports bars in midtown Manhattan that passes for being Irish. He was talking about the deep identity that unites a people.
Figuring out who I am is a work in progress, but I think my grandfather, whom everyone called Grandpa Mór, would have understood. After all, he always said, "What is bred in the bone will out."
|Chicago's Green River on St. Paddy's Day|
More Photos Chicago Celebration
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by William Butler Yeats 1865–1939
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
A terrible beauty is born.
Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.
Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
FOOTNOTES: September 25, 1916
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)
by Bill Stieger
Writer from St. Paul, MN
Given my surname, I feel mixed about celebrating St. Patrick's Day. I am Irish; in fact, three quarters so. I am descended from the Lennons, the Abbotts, the McCarthys, the Eagans. My cousins include the Kanes, the Runyons, the Flynns and the Russells. I am as Irish as an American can be, except for the German name inherited from my father's father, who had married Catherine Eagan.
Friends, fellow St. Paulites, please consider my dilemma. I am solidly St. Paul Irish. My grandfather attended St. Paul Academy as a classmate of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and knew him. But will I proudly march with the prominent Irish families in my city's St. Patrick's Day Parade? No. I'd attended some of those parades in my early years. During the festivities, someone would invariably ask for my name, which I admitted with a shrug was McBride.
I blame St. Luke's Elementary for planting the corrosive Catholic guilt that sears across my chest as the lies pile higher. In fact, so pathetic is my neurotic attachment to honesty that the Internal Revenue Service is sole entity to which I can lie to with glee.
So, it hurts to be "Stieger" on St. Patrick's Day. The insult weaves through the miserable narrative of my life. It catches me at each station. My first wife was a girl of Norwegian heritage who was an eighth Irish, but carried one of the great Irish names. The only thing Irish about her was her temper, which seemed to have survived the cross-breeding: she was a woman who could start an argument in an empty room.
Another aspect of St. Patrick's Day that grinds does not concern my name. It is this: annually, I ask myself, Why do we Irish work so hard to perpetuate every derelict stereotype of our race on St. Patrick's Day? Stand at curbside as drunken louts in leprechaun suits stumble down Wabasha Street, blowing plastic stadium horns. March beside Elvis Presleys in Green Pompadours. Witness the bleary eyed teens as they upchuck green beer on the sidewalk.
Do you think I exaggerate? Read the messages on the horrific buttons and sweatshirts these revelers wear to degrade the tribe: "10 percent Irish/90 percent beer," or "Member of the official Irish drinking team!" Check out pervy intonations, like "Erin Go Braghless," or "Kiss my Shamrocks," or my favorite of all: "I'm starting a drunken brawl with the first person who stereotypes the Irish."
I mean, please! Can you name another ethnic group so bent on its own self abasement? Imagine any other culture or ethnic group frolicking in costumes and behaving in a manner that perpetuates the stereotypes of bigots. None do it. But Irish Americans insist on acting like the clowns at their own circus.
And what about Mr. St. Patrick himself? Patrick was born in 5th century Roman Brittania. He was kidnapped at 16 by pagan raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. A few years afterward Patrick escaped and returned to his family in Britannia. He later sailed back to Ireland after becoming a cleric, and was eventually ordained bishop.
Though not much is known of the historical St. Patrick, the St. Patrick of Irish lore was said to have rid Ireland of its snakes. Scientists now agree that Ireland's watery isolation makes it near certain that snakes never inhabited the island, though many ascribe their absence to Patrick. Ditching the snakes was Pat's contribution to his nation? Snakes. Big deal. The story I would've hoped for would be for Patrick to come along ten centuries later and used his holy powers to rid Ireland of the British. Where was the old boy during the troubles?
So, you'll not see this Stieger joining the parades this coming St. Patrick's Day. He will, however, raise a glass in remembrance of the great Irish writers -- Swift, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, O'Connor and Shaw, among others. And, if asked, yes, I will gladly kiss their Shamrocks.
|More Photos - St. Paddy's Day Parade, New York City, NY|
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Everything You Know About
St. Patrick's Day Is Wrong
The Huffington Post | by Christine Dalton
St. Patrick's Day is almost upon us! Typically, we associate the holiday with drinking, drinking, and drinking. Oh, and being Irish.
But there's a lot more to St. Patrick's Day than most people know. Truthfully, you've probably been living a lie. When you learn all the facts, this holiday actually kind of... sucks.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but here are 10 brutally honest facts about St. Patrick's Day....
10 - St. Patrick wasn't Irish. Historians believe he was born in what is now England, Scotland or Wales.
9 - St. Patrick's color is blue. We've been living a lie! You might want to hold off on the green face paint this year.
8 - St. Patrick's Day as we know it was invented in America. Really?! Catholic University's Irish American expert, Timothy Meagher, explains that St. Patrick's Day celebrations began in the 18th century in American cities with large Irish immigrant populations."It becomes a way to honor the saint but also to confirm ethnic identity and to create bonds of solidarity," Meagher explained. Really.
7 - March 17th is the day St. Patrick died. So you're celebrating his death.
6 - St. Patrick didn't drive all the snakes from Ireland. Probably because there's no evidence that snakes have EVER existed in Ireland. The climate is much too chilly for them.
5 - The shamrock isn't the symbol of Ireland. Sure, you can find shamrocks all over the Emerald Isle, but the real symbol is the harp.
4 - St. Patrick's Day used to be a dry holiday. Today's booze-bags look to the holiday as a great excuse to start drinking Guinness at 9 AM. Until 1970, however, all pubs in Ireland were closed in observance of the religious feast day.
3 - Corned beef and cabbage isn't a traditional Irish dish.It's just about as Irish as spaghetti and meatballs. You're better off sticking to Guinness.
2 - There are more Irish people living in the U.S. than Ireland. The population of Ireland is about 4.2. million. In contrast, there are around 34 MILLION people of Irish descent living in America.
1 - Your odds of finding a four-leaf clover are slim to none. 1 in 10,000 to be exact. Ouch.
But let's end on a happy note. At least these two guys are Irish.
Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!