Do NOT Appropriate My Culture This St. Patrick's Day
"The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad, For all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.". ― G.K. Chesterton
" Arrows cost money. Use up the Irish. The dead cost nothing." -- Longshanks, "Braveheart"
Today, and all through the weekend, millions of Americans will don green clothing, put on ridiculous novelty leprechaun hats and plastic necklaces they bought at the party store, attend parades and parties, and pack pubs and brewhouses to hear the music of bagpipes, accordions and tin whistles. And while doing so, give no thought to what all this greenface behavior does to the people of my ethnicity.
Simply put, my culture is not your costume.
Like many of my fellow Irish-Americans, I come from a long tradition of unruly, under-educated, dirt poor bog trotters, hooligans and ne'er-do-wells. And when people who do not share our backgrounds and experiences play pretend for one holiday out of the year, co-opting my family's legacy, it's an insult to my less than proud heritage.
By way of background, here's part of an email that my cousin Phil sent us all after he had done some genealogical research. Reportedly, against wishes of a rebellious, belligerent Catholic priest named Father Rhatigan, there had been a series of evictions by a notorious Protestant landlord in Tuam, County Galway, in 1879:
The first of these was a woman named Bridget, who had 4 young children. Bridget's husband Thomas had emigrated to America 5 years previously, and was supposedly sending money back to support his family. Apparently, by the accounts of the condition of the children, not much. ...
What is known is that after the eviction, Bridget departed Ireland and reunited with her husband Thomas. Within a year, she gave birth to their first child to be born on American soil, John Francis Thornton.
What a little further digging uncovered was that Thomas had done the late 19th century equivalent of running out to the 7-Eleven for a pack of smokes and some scratchies, and bugged out to the United States without telling anyone. Then Bridget tracked his ass down in Boston and made more babies with him. That's my birthright you're taking as your own this week when you dress up in your "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" shirt and head out for some corned beef hash.
Here's an actual clip from the It’s from an 1896 edition of the Tuam Herald, about a court appearance by our grandfather’s brother Patrick, who was 16 at the time:
Here’s part of it since it’s hard to read:
Acting Sergt Kirby summoned a lad named Thornton for having assaulted another named Gannon on a recent occasion. The defendant had also given a good deal of “sauce” to the Acting-Segt. …
Chairman - Why did you hit the other boy?
Thornton - I had a drop taken sir. …
Chairman - Why did you hit Gannon?
Thornton - He struck me before some time ago.
Gannon appeared on the table and said it had arisen over a football dispute.
Which explains a lot. Gannon probably said in 120 years Patrick's great nephew will love the Cheatriots. Fuck you, Gannon.
This is the heritage you disrespect every time you pretend to know Dropkick Murphys lyrics. When you order a Guinness for the first time since last March 17th. When you throw on a red beard that hooks over your ears, you're marginalizing my great-grandmother's experiences and those of that juvenile delinquent settling his football arguments with a bit of the ol' Shillelagh Law.
So consider that over the next few days as the celebrations break out across the country.
--Every cupcake you buy at the supermarket with the plastic shamrock ring embedded in the frosting is using our ancient symbol that St. Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity to the great unwashed.
--Every Shamrock Shake McDonald's serves is flavored with tears of those whom the Brits let starve during the Potato Famine while they were exporting grain throughout the Empire.
--Every magically delicious box of marshmallow cereal you open has a mascot on the front, an anti-Irish trope of a mischievous, deceptive imp who looks exactly like 25% of my friends. And they're sick of hearing about the resemblance.
--Every time a non-Irish coed drops her Lulu Lemons to squat and pee in an alley a block away from the parade route, she's metaphorically peeing on the hundreds of drunk Irish girls who came before her.
--Every sports mascot of a leprechaun winking with a basketball balanced on his finger or with his fists up, is a painful reminder of the stereotype of the Irishman who loves sports and doesn't mind getting into the occasional scrap.
--And should you find yourself cuffed and getting escorted into the back of a police van with a bunch of other rowdies, bear in mind that the term Paddy Wagon is a slur. And that slur was earned by generations of my people who came before me.
On further review, if you want to steal our heritage, by all means, help yourself. There's plenty to go around.
In all sincerity, Happy St. Patrick's Day. After two years without one to celebrate, we all need this one. Have fun. Slainte'.