St Patrick’s Day, USA
A Dubliner finds his Celtic roots in Washington, DC.
St Patrick’s Day has a long gestation in the USA. Parades run over several weekends, so as not to clash with other parades in neighbouring areas.
As with other cities, New York and Washington, DC have several different parades, as different boroughs and outlying towns see the need to hold their own celebration of the quintessentially Irish festival.
While fewer than 10 percent of Americans – currently some 22million, pending the latest census data – claim Irish ancestry, you wouldn’t guess it from a cursory examination of newspaper stories and TV schedules. Late February and early March bring almost guaranteed success if you’re pitching any story or book with an Irish theme.
Ordinary novels by Nuala O’Faolain and Maeve Binchy have been widely and for the most part uncritically reviewed. A local group’s work in Baltimore on a ‘shrine’ to the Irish labourers who worked the nineteenth century Baltimore and Ohio railroad merited a major feature in the New York Times. The Disney Channel ran a feature-length movie in primetime on a Saturday night about leprechauns playing basketball….From the ordinary to the absurd and back to the even more absurd, there is little escape.
The Irish in the USA seem happy that their Irishness is portrayed by leprechauns (and sometimes fully-grown women and men) in green plastic derbies and Aran sweaters.
The only time anything even vaguely interesting is reported is the annual furore over whether gays and abortion-supporters may march in parades. This is where religiously inspired ‘traditional’ Irish values of intolerance and contempt for women come to the fore. Some parades allow them, most don’t – and the ensuing bunfight is as unseemly as the values that brought it about in the first place. In Queen’s, NY, a St Patrick’s parade that includes gay and lesbian marchers was initiated last year as an ‘inclusive alternative’ to the Manhattan version up Fifth Avenue that bars gays from marching under their own banner, as do many others.
For a few weeks every year, everywhere you turn you see emerald green this and emerald green that. Everybody seems to want to herald their connection, tenuous or otherwise, to the small island on the west coast of Europe.
Having ignored the day for several years, this year I will partake. St Patrick’s day is on a Saturday, so I’ll head down to Biddy Mulligan’s on Dupont Circle to drink the non-dyed version of their Guinness. No doubt I’ll chuckle (or more likely grimace) at the irony of the citizens of the most powerful nation in the world, desperate to be associated with one of the least powerful.
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