March 17th is St Patrick’s Day and all around the world millions of people celebrate. There are lots of other saint days but none of them seem to have the world-wide appeal that St Patrick’s day has.
With an Irish father, a brother born on St Patrick’s Day (my father was delighted!) and a daughter who loves Irish dancing, it has always been a special occasion in our house. It is, of course, celebrated in Ireland but it seems to be a much bigger event in America.
Why is it a larger event in the US?
The population of Ireland is about 5 million and in the US it’s about 350 million with 10% of the population citing Irish ancestry. That’s 35 million. 7 times more than people who actually live in Ireland. Here are a list of famous people who cite Irish ancestry.
- Harrison Ford (great grandparents)
- Ben Affleck (great-grandfather)
- Christina Aguilera (great grandparents)
- John F Kennedy (great grandparents)
- Ronald Reagan (great-grandfather)
- Ben Stiller (great grandparents)
- George Clooney (great great grandfather)
- Barack Obama (great great grandfather)
- Tom Cruise (great great great grandfather)
Here are some famous names that although they said they had Irish ancestry (“I’m an eighth Italian, one sixth Zulu, one quarter Native American but I’m actually Irish!) I couldn’t find anything. Mariah Carey (her grandfather adopted the surname Carey when he emigrated to New York), Robert de Niro, Zachary Quinto, Demi Levato and Megan Fox.
So what is this obsession with St Patrick’s Day and Irish ancestry?
It seems that lots of people want to embrace being Irish or having Irish connections. It’s something cool or popular, something that make you different. For lots of Americans, it’s also a chance to associate themselves with the hard-working family immigrants of the 1800’s who survived against the odds. The popular underdog success story that Americans love.
It’s not surprising that a huge number of people claim to have an Irish relative somewhere in their family tree when you look at the pattern of immigration from Ireland over the years.
In the 1600’s English law was enforced in Ireland. Involuntary servants (slaves) were forced to emigrate to the US.
In the 1700’s there was voluntary migration; unless you were catholic and then you were prevented from emigrating. The American War of Independence (1775 -1783) attracted many Irishmen to come and fight against the English for freedom and injustice. It has been stated that half the army was Irish.
In the 1800’s a rise in employment for unskilled labourers on the canals, roads, railways and mines in the US and the UK, encouraged many Irish to leave Ireland. And then of course was the potato famine of 1840. But even after the famine migration continued to rise. The 1848 gold discovery in Sierra Nevada also helped with migration.
But opinions changed over the years. When the economy was strong and cheap work forces were needed, countries welcomed the Irish with open arms. But during economic depressions there was a fear of the foreigner and they were blamed for unemployment. Sound familiar? My father has told me stories of his job hunting when he came over from Ireland to the UK in the 1960’s. There were signs on the doors of many establishments that said “No Irish”. They also said “No Blacks and No Jews” but that’s another blog.
Happy St Patrick’s Day
My father is actually in New York, as I write this, celebrating his 70th birthday in a country that celebrates St Patrick’s Day well. I’m sure that there will be no such signs on the doors of the establishments that he will be visiting and lots of celebrating.
So ‘Happy St Patrick’s Day’ everyone or as they say in Ireland ‘sona Lá Fhéile Pádraig’. To get you in the mood watch the 1994 Eurovision Interval Act ‘Riverdance’ or Ed Sheeran’s latest song ‘Galway Girl'(see below) Enjoy!
10 Facts you might not have known about Irish stuff
- James Hoban born in 1792 in Ireland, designed the White House in Washington after winning a competition.
- In 1954 Joseph Murphy invented seasoning the potato crisp (or chip as is said in US) with a cheese and onion flavour. The crisps ‘Taytos’ are still available today.
- An irishman John Philip Holland designed and built the first long distance submarine in the late 1800’s.
- 40% of Guiness consumed worldwide is drunk in Africa. Nigeria is particularly fond of it followed by Cameroon and Ghana.
- The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) founded by Richard Martin in 1824, an Irish politician and first animal rights activist.
- Sir Hans Sloane (an Irishman) first created chocolate milk over 350 years ago.
- Ireland is a snake-free island. Due to its isolation from the European mainland, Ireland lacks several species common elsewhere in Europe, such as moles, weasels, polecats or roe deer.
- Some phrases we use come from the Gaelic language. One example is when people say, “can you dig it?” “Dig” comes from the Irish word “tuig” which means “to understand”.
- The Irish Wolfhound is a breed of dog possibly bred in Ireland, as far back as 500 BC. On all fours, the dogs are about 3 feet tall. On their hind legs, they can reach over 6 feet.
- A recent study conducted on fossils and over 200 bears from 14 locations, showed that polar bears are descendants of Irish brown bears. The only example in history of somebody leaving Ireland because it was too hot!!