“But I thought you were Irish…”


Wednesday Wardrobe Alert: Black skirt, brown long-sleeved t-shirt, brown striped socks, black hoodie.

There’s an absence of green in that description, and that’s intentional. I love the colour green. It’s my absolute favourite, and always has been. But you will never see me wear green on March 17. You also aren’t likely to see me drinking beer, acting like an arse, and telling people to kiss me because of my ethnicity.

Disclosure: I come from Irish. If you’ve ever seen me, there’s little question. My family immigrated to Canada at the end of the 1840s. We’re Famine Irish, and many of my extended family members are still practicing Catholics. (if you know anything about Irish history, that bit of information is important.)

What’s my deal, then? Shouldn’t I be drinking Shamrock Shakes, kissing the Blarney Stone, and dancing a drunken jig in a pub right about now, especially with the kids still away?

I don’t think so. You see, I’m not in the habit of celebrating cultural genocide. Strong words?

Perhaps. But maybe not.

St. Patrick’s Day is little more than the celebration of the coerced conversion of a nation of people away from longstanding spiritual tradition, the beginning of the disappearance of language and rich cultural history. And it brings out the worst stereotypes of Irish people even as we’re encouraged to be proud of our heritage. Because we’re all raving (though funny and musical!) drunks.

Some do struggle with alcohol (and other substance) abuse. There may be something to the stereotype. Looking at my family tree over the last century or so, it wouldn’t surprise me if a good half of the branches were soaked in booze. Does that mean that we’re just predisposed to addictive personalities? Or, as is the case for many other indigenous populations, is this the aftermath of colonialism?

We’re roughly 1600 years post-contact now, and (all but Northern) Ireland is a sovereign nation. The Irish language is the official tongue of the land. The poets, the novelists, the artists – all in full force. Those of us living in the Irish diaspora are no longer seen as sub-human and forbidden from entering public buildings (“No Irish, No Dogs,” anyone?). Many of us have overcome ongoing generational poverty and have broken the cycle of alcoholism our families have dealt with for … well, centuries.

I know very few people who share my feelings on the celebration of this day. To each their own. But when the colonial parallels can be so clearly drawn, how is celebrating St. Patrick’s Day any less problematic than celebrating Columbus Day?

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5 Comments

  1. Soire said,

    March 17, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    We had green eggs and ham for dinner because it was an excuse to be silly, but we also had a history lesson about who St. Patrick was, what he did and what people are really celebrating.

    The eldest reader wanted to look it up in Wikipedia, so we did and had a talk about various christian sects, etc etc. It was interesting to see what she wanted to know.

  2. Vandyke Brown said,

    March 17, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    As a first generation Canadian born with an Irish /English grandfather and Scottish parents, I’ve never understood the ‘revel in our roots’ theme. . .

    I also never understood St.Patrick’s day: it just seemed like an excuse for a national drinking holiday for anyone who’s ever claimed to be able to trace their ancestors back to some ship, and it seems to be most popular with the 18 to 26 set.

    I’ll drink on the vernal equinox thanks.

  3. dantesdaughter said,

    March 17, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    snakes as metaphor – another interesting little slur.
    There are no more snakes (read: heathen, pagan, savage Irish natives) in Ireland.
    You’re absolutely right.
    good post.

  4. Ange said,

    March 17, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    I feel this holiday is pointless as a Canadian with Irish background – no more than an excuse to wear too much tacky green crap and drink. I don’t dress my child in green, nor do I wear it. And yes, my grandfather on my mother’s side was Irish – famine Irish as you say, came to Canada in the 1840s, worked his way up. But well, I’m Canadian. I understand and appreciate my roots, they fascinate me, they are a part of me, they define parts of me, but they’re no reason to drink and wear green. If I want to do that, I’ll do it any other day.

    I celebrate my heritage with respect for the people who brought me here, not a gaudy shirt and glasses. I HATE St. Patrick’s Day.

  5. Trish said,

    March 18, 2010 at 11:05 am

    I completely and totally agree (my family is from Belfast….my mom is eligible for dual citizenship). I wore green pants yesterday by mistake, and pretty much felt horrified all day that people would think I was wearing them on purpose. Also, let’s not forget the fact that my children wore green to school *only* to avoid being pinched and punched. Nice.


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