Yes it’s that time of year again. St. Patrick’s Day is upon us and here on the U.S. side of the puddle, it can quickly become a train wreck. This year I’ve decided to make an easy list that we can all hand out to our beer hat wearing, cheap leprechaun-looking, fake Irish dancing friends in order to keep them (and us) from acting the fool. Here’s five simple DON’Ts that will make the Wearing of the Green safer and more palatable for everyone, no matter where you live.
The Irish have always flocked to America’s shores for one reason or another. Some have argued that the Irish built America itself, despite its inherent distrust and discriminatory attitudes toward them. And just how did the U.S. repay them for their work? Not well. America treated the Irish horribly. There were anti-Irish riots. There were “No Irish” signs. The Irish people were used and abused for years but they kept coming and eventually they became part of the fabric of the country where many thrived. It’s safe to say that without them, the United States would be a very different place.
Today there are 34.5 million people in the U.S. who claim an Irish heritage, which is nearly 30 million more than the entire population of Ireland itself. This includes the few hundred thousand Irish-born people who currently live and/or work in America legally but it doesn’t count the estimated 10,000-50,000 Irish people who are not legally supposed to be in the country. These folks usually settle in so-called “Sanctuary cities” like New York, Boston, and San Francisco where there are large, established Irish communities and city law enforcement agencies that do not contact or cooperate with immigration officials unless absolutely necessary. It creates an illusion of safety but the pervasive threat of discovery is serious and it’s getting more dire every day.
The world lost a giant a few moments ago. Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was a warrior, a peacemaker, and so much more. It’s not shocking news, but it is devastating. It is safe to say that without Martin McGuinness, the IRA ceasefire(s) and the Good Friday Agreement would probably have never happened. He is remembered by some as a modern Michael Collins and any Irish historian would probably agree that there’s a good deal of truth in that comparison.
McGuinness shaped politics in the North for decades and this evening the region lost much more than a single man. My thoughts and condolences go out to his friends and family and I hope that they can find the comfort they need in the days to come. My candles are lit and there is nothing else I can say at the moment as I try to form my own thoughts into words and to process the passing of such a vital and important person in modern Irish history.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam
It’s rare that I get to post anything that is located close to me in this blog. Being so far away from what I usually write about means that while I’ve visited most of the places I feature, they are quite far away by the time I get to write about them. This one is close to home in many ways, and I am saddened to write about it at all. You see, I live very close to Berkeley, California, and I worked there for years so the recent tragedy there is very close to my heart.
Over on the Facebook site, Wednesdays are all about whisk(e)y. It began with this wonderful article and has taken on a life of its own.
Join me for a fun mix of facts, infusions, recipes, and history to celebrate the Water of Life in all its forms. Head over to Choosing the Green on Wednesdays for your digital cocktails and mouthwatering recipes….
One of my other passions aside from all things Irish is jewelry making. I usually make larger, more dramatic pieces but this delicate gem is inspired by the Irish wedding I am lucky enough to attend tomorrow. It’s too bad the bride said she didn’t need jewelry. Garnets and sterling silver are always such a lovely combination.
Gerry Conlon may be the single most influential person when it comes to who got me into studying Irish politics. The Guildford Four case was riveting for me and it showed just how cruel and scared absolutely everyone was in the heart of the Troubles. That case was a close second to the Easter Rising of 1916 in my favorite stories of tragic Irish triumph.
This morning at 4AM California time, I found out that Gerry Conlon had passed away and I actually shed a tear. This marks the first time I have cried over a celebrity passing away since Johnny Cash, and I am pretty sure that it has only happened those two times. I was heartbroken and I almost got up then to write about it but I wasn’t awake enough to articulate the utter sadness of this news.
For those that may not know his story, early in 1975, he and 3 other young kids were arrested in connection to the IRA bombing of the Guildford Pub. Despite having nothing to do with the IRA or the bombings, they were convicted and sentenced to life in prison…thankfully, since if they’d been sentenced to death, they all would have been dead before their convictions were quashed. Before they were, another 7 people were convicted of bomb-making and explosives handling – including Gerry Conlon’s family members and father, Giuseppe Conlon. Guiseppe never strayed from wanting out of prison and remained hopeful that the miscarriage of justice would be overturned, but Gerry did not. He had a very early lesson on how terrible and confusing the world was and did not have the fortitude of belief of his father.
Guiseppe Conlon died in prison, as an innocent man. Years and years later, his son – who had found the fighter in himself after the tragic death of his dad, walked out of the courthouse through the front door, proving to the world that the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven had been wrongly convicted over 15 years before. The movie, “In the Name of the Father” was based on these real life events and is an amazing film. If you haven’t seen it, go find it now. Seriously. It took 15 years for the Crown to admit they made mistakes and purposefully suppressed evidence in order to convict these men and women…none of whom fit any profile or had any Provo or political ties and it had a large effect on my psyche.
I was 16 when they released Gerry Conlon. I remember seeing the footage and wondering what it was all about. It was probably my first foray into Irish history – and it was a story that led to another, to another, to another. Since it’s release, I’ve probably seen In the Name of the Father at least 25 times too – and obviously, my studies have just continued and blossomed in the 25+ years since my first glimpse at this case..
Gerry Conlon did not have the Hollywood ending that he so deserved. He struggled with depression, suicide, and addiction since the day he was finally released – and really, who wouldn’t? I cannot find fault in the need to try to erase what has happened to you and your family in whatever way you can. Still, he made it to 60 and was a published author and an activist in other cases that he felt were rigged or unfair. He died today in his home in Belfast and I am still a little teary as I write those words. I wish I had met him – it actually was a thing I had hoped to do someday – just to tell him what a profound impact his story had on shaping who I am and what my interests are. 60 is too young for many, for Gerry it was a pretty amazing feat, given that he spent over 15 of them wrongly convicted in the harshest prisons.
His family says it better than anyone else could. In a statement issued through his lawyer Gareth Peirce, they said: “He brought life, love, intelligence, wit and strength to our family through its darkest hours. He helped us to survive what we were not meant to survive. We thank him for his life and we thank all his many friends for their love.”
Rest in Peace Mr. Conlon. Your story and your fight will forever be inspiring and triumphant. I am sorry you lived it and I am thankful for the impact it had on me. I hope you see your father again.