Saint Patrick’s Day

| March 16, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is typically marked with shamrocks, Irish music, Guinness, and lots and lots of green (like this photo of the Chicago River). Many people, regardless of ancestral heritage, celebrate this Irish cultural festivity around the world. But what does (and did) it mean to be Irish, particularly in the United States?

In the mid-19th century, over 1 million poor and uneducated Irish Catholics immigrated to the United States to escape the Potato Famine. They faced discrimination, and each March 17th, they were depicted in the media as caricatures of drunk, violent monkeys. Irish Americans eventually “became¬†white” by discontinuing Irish cultural traditions and fueling the fire against other oppressed groups in the United States. This article from the Huffington Post discusses what is left unsaid in classroom textbooks about the complicated history of Irish Americans. The article also touches more universally on the “patterns of poverty, power, and inequality” that have occurred and recurred over centuries up until today.

Here are a few texts on the topic of Irish American history available in the library, if you’re interested:

Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States, eds. J.J. Lee & Marion R. Casey, 2006

Talking Race in the Classroom, Jane Bolgatz, 2005

Blackness and Transatlantic Irish Identity: Celtic Soul Brothers, Lauren Onkey, 2010

From Slavery to Poverty: The Racial Origins of Welfare in New York, 1840-1918, Gunja SenGupta, 2009