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 conflict known colloquially as the Troubles. His case was a close second to the Easter Rising of 1916 in my favorite stories of tragic Irish triumph.
On June 21st, 2014 at 4AM California time, I found out that Gerry Conlon had passed away and I actually shed a tear. This marked the first time I cried over a celebrity passing away since Johnny Cash, and I am pretty sure that it 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, Gerry Conlon and three other young adults 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 eventually released, another seven innocent people were convicted of aiding them in this incident – including many of Conlon’s family members and his father, Giuseppe Conlon. Guiseppe never strayed from proclaiming his innocence and he remained hopeful that the miscarriage of justice would be overturned, but Gerry did not. Gerry did not have the fortitude of belief of his father.
Guiseppe Conlon died in prison an innocent man. Years and years later, his son – who found the fighter in himself shortly after the tragic death of his dad, eventually walked out of the courthouse through the front door over fifteen years later when his conviction was quashed, proving to the world that the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven had been wrongly convicted. The blockbuster 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 over fifteen years for the police to admit they had made mistakes and purposefully suppressed evidence in order to convict these men and women…none of whom fit any profile or had any paramilitary or political ties.
I was sixteen when they released Gerry and I remember seeing the footage of him leaving the courthouse. It was one of my first forays into Irish politics – and it was a story that led to another, to another, and to another. More than twenty-five years later, I can point to Gerry Conlon as one of the reasons that I fell in love with Irish history. His story had a profound effect on my psyche. Unfortunately his story does 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, Conlon made it to sixty years of age and was a published author and an activist in other cases that he felt were rigged or unfair. He died on this day in 2014 in Belfast and even now 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. Sixty is too young for many but for Gerry Conlon 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.
On this Father’s Day I am very saddened to hear the news that John Sands, the father of famed hunger striker and Irish martyr Bobby Sands, has passed away. I cannot imagine the pain of a father losing a child and I hope that how Bobby has been remembered and the love of the rest of his family made his life easier after the loss of his son. I also hope that son’s beautiful smile was the first he saw in his afterlife for that would be a happy Father’s day indeed.
Rest in Peace sir.
His memorial service will be held Tuesday, 17th June, at St Agnes’ Chapel, Andersonstown Road, in Belfast.
I believe that he knew he was about to be executed. I believe that he thought it was worth it completely. I have seen his letters to his mother in person, once he was imprisoned and about to die. This schoolmaster, this poet, this philosopher and this hero of Ireland – this reason that I wear an Easter Lily badge – this man, is an idealist – a cheerleader – a man who never lost his faith in humanity and justice. He was amazing. His triumph was through his failure. His life was short but full and meaningful.
Nov. 10th, 1879 – May 3rd, 1916
Padraig Pearse’s Address to Court Martial:
I desire in the first place to repeat what I
have already said in letters to General Sir John
Maxwell and to Brigadier General Lowe. My object in
agreeing to an unconditional surrender was to prevent
the further slaughter of the civil population of
Dublin and to save the lives of our gallant followers
who, having made for six days a stand unparalleled in
military history, were now surrounded and (in the case
of those under the immediate command of Headquarters)
without food. I fully understand now, as then, that my
own life is forfeit to British law, and I shall die
very cheerfully if I think that the British
Government, as it has already shown itself strong,
will now show itself magnanimous enough to accept my
single life to forfeiture and give a general amnesty
to the brave men and boys who have fought at my
In the second place I wish it to be understood
that any admissions I make here are to be taken as
involving myself alone. They do not involve and must
not be used against anyone who acted with me, not even
those who may have set their names to documents with
me. (The Court assented to this,)
I admit that I was Commandant General
Commanding in Chief the forces of the Irish Republic
which have been acting against you for the past week,
and that I was President of their Provisional
Government. I stand over all my acts and words done or
spoken in those capacities. When I was a child of ten
I went down on my bare knees by my bedside one night
and promised God that I should devote my life to an
effort to free my country. I have kept that promise.
As a boy and as a man I have worked for Irish freedom,
first among all earthly things, I have helped to
organise, to arm, to train, and to discipline my
fellow-countrymen to the sole end that, when the time
came, they might fight for Irish freedom. The time, as
it seemed to me, did come, and we went into the fight.
I am glad we did. We seem to have lost. We have not
lost, To refuse to fight would have been to lose; to
fight is to win. We have kept faith with the past, and
handed on a tradition to the future.
I repudiate the assertion of the prosecutor
that I sought to aid and abet England’s enemy. Germany
is no more to me than England is. I asked and accepted
German aid in the shape of arms and an expeditionary
force. We neither asked for nor accepted Germany [sic]
gold, nor had any traffic with Germany but what I
state. My aim was to win Irish freedom: we struck the
first blow ourselves but should have been glad of an
I assume that I am speaking to Englishmen, who
value their freedom and who profess to be fighting for
the freedom of Belgium and Serbia. Believe that we,
too, love freedom and desire it. To us it is more
desirable than anything in the world. If you strike us
down now, we shall rise again and renew the fight. You
cannot conquer Ireland. You cannot extinguish the
Irish passion for freedom. If our deed has not been
sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win
it by a better deed.