Luck O' The Irish
In March, Americans observe Irish-American Heritage Month and honor the contributions of Irish immigrants and their descendants to the nation. The month was chosen because so many Irish-Americans celebrate their heritage on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17).
Irish-American Heritage Month begins with a Presidential proclamation. Since President George Bush declared March as this special month in 1991, subsequent presidents have signed similar proclamations every year to recognize Irish-American contributions throughout history. This year was no different as President Barack Obama issued a proclamation stating the following:
“Generations of Irish left the land of their forebears to cast their fortunes with a young Republic. Escaping the blight of famine or the burden of circumstance, many found hardship even here. They endured prejudice and stinging ridicule. But through it all, these new citizens never gave up on one of our oldest ideas: that anyone from anywhere can write the next great chapter in the American story. So they raised families and built communities, earned a living and sent their kids to school. In time, what it meant to be Irish helped define what it means to be American. And as they did their part to make this country stronger, Irish Americans shared in its success, retaining the best of their heritage and passing it down to their children.”
Throughout the month, many museums and libraries have special exhibits to mark the Irish influence on American history. The vital part of the Heritage Month is St. Patrick’s Day celebrations all over the country.
The day is often observed with using or emphasizing the color of green, and various parades. Chicago celebrates the day by dyeing the River green while New York City boasts of the largest parade, which makes up of over 150,000 participants and three million observers.
According to the 2011 American Community Survey, the number of Irish-Americans was 34.5 millions, which was more than seven times that of the population of Ireland itself. Irish was the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only German.
On St. Patrick's Day, everyone is Irish
By Daniel Simmons
92nd ARW Historian
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. – Every year on March 17 we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Normally this ritual involves attending parades, wearing green, eating Irish food and drinking green beer. But who was St. Patrick and what is all the hoopla about?
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday. St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born to Catholic parents around the year 385 in Britain. His father was a nobleman and a deacon, but Patrick’s privileged life ended at the age of 16 when he was captured by slave raiders from Ireland. Relegated to a harsh life, Patrick’s faith flourished as he turned to God in prayer. After being held captive for six years, Patrick dedicated his life to converting the Irish to Christianity.
During his 30 years in Ireland, Patrick founded more than 300 churches. After a lifetime of Christian service, he died on March 17, 461. By the end of the 7th century, many legends about Patrick evolved, including his charming of all snakes in Ireland, leading them to the sea to drown.
Probably the most popular legend involves the shamrock. It is believed that Patrick used the three-leaf shamrock to explain the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity to unbelievers. This is probably why the shamrock, Ireland’s national flower, is worn by the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the United States was in Boston in 1737. It is interesting to note that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade occurred in America and not in Ireland. In 1762 in New York City, Irish soldiers in the English military marched through the city in an attempt to reconnect with their heritage. As more Irish immigrants came to this country, the parades were a show of strength for Irish Americans.
The Irish influence on America increased in the mid 1800s as Ireland suffered through the Great Potato Famine of 1845-49. The famine claimed the lives of one-million people in Ireland and forced many Irish to emigrate to the United States to escape starvation. The influx of large numbers of Irish immigrants bolstered the celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day throughout the United States.
Ireland, on the other hand, does not have a long history of American-style celebrations of the holiday. Prior to the 1970s, since St. Patrick’s Day was primarily a religious holiday, law prohibited pubs being open on March 17, the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick. This changed in the mid 90s when the government began using the occasion as a way to enhance tourism and to showcase Ireland to the rest of the world.
Today, the Irish-American culture has become an important part of our American heritage. Since our nation was forged from a melting pot of so many different nationalities, it is always great to take time and celebrate the contributions of people who have helped make this country great.
On St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a little bit of Irish in all of us. For those of you on active duty, please remember to wear your flight suits or your BDUs so you don’t get pinched. For you civilians and retirees, break out your best green attire. As you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, may you all enjoy the luck of the Irish.
By British Billy
48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England – I know to be considered a saint, you must possess many noble qualities, commit fearless deeds and have at least one miracle to your name. I have many attributes, but I doubt saintliness will ever be one of them. However, even without me, Britain has more than enough saints to help her along.
Most of my American friends are very familiar with St. Patrick’s Day and all its associated fun and festivities, but few are aware that England, Scotland and Wales also each have their own national day named after their very own patron saints. St. David is the patron saint of Wales, St. Andrew of Scotland , St. Patrick of Ireland, and St. George is the patron saint of England. Their stories are full of myths, complexities and contradictions. However, there is much national pride invested in each particular patron saint, in the traditions associated with their special day and the lessons learned from their lives.
David is the only saint of the four born in the country he represents, and on March 1, Welsh people across the globe celebrated St. David’s Day.
St. David, or Dewi Sant as he is called in the Welsh language, was a Celtic monk, abbot and bishop who lived in the 6th century. He was one of many early saints who helped to spread Christianity among the pagan Celtic tribes of western Britain.
Many Welsh people wear one or both of the national emblems of Wales on their lapel on this day to celebrate: the daffodil (a generic Welsh symbol which is in season during March) or the leek (St. David’s personal symbol). The other Welsh symbol, Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon, Wales’ national flag), will be flown on many more buildings than usual.
Renowned worldwide for their singing and their rugby, as well as the beautiful landscape of their country, the Welsh are fervently patriotic on their national day. There are a few proud Welsh men and women working at RAF Lakenheath, and I hope you will take the opportunity to greet them on their very own saint’s day.
Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!**
** “Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!” means “Happy St. David’s Day” in Welsh, but you had better get a Welshman to pronounce it for you. Welsh is a fascinating language, but with a few extra vowels.
Photo: March 1, Welsh people across the globe celebrate St. David’s Day. Many Welsh people wear one or both of the national emblems of Wales on their lapel on this day to celebrate: the daffodil (a generic Welsh symbol which is in season during March) or the leek (St. David’s personal symbol). The other Welsh symbol, Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon, Wales’ national flag), will be flown on many more buildings than usual. Feel free to send British Billy any questions about British life and culture, and when he isn’t sleeping or hunting, he’ll try and put a few thoughts together to help you out.