By John O’Connell
In addition to the world’s oldest (continuing since 1762) and largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Manhattan’s 5th Avenue on March 17, dozens of Long Island communities eagerly await their local parades, including Mineola and Bethpage on March 6, Huntington on March 13, Rockville Center on March 19, Glen Cove and Wantagh on March 20 and Bayside on March 26. New York State holds more than 50 parades — not counting other types of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations — in March. These will all be well attended by walkers and spectators as most parades return after a two year hiatus caused by Covid.
There are thousands of St. Patrick’s Day parades all over the country, many thousands around the world, from Dublin to Tokyo.
Primarily a chance for Irish-Americans to show off their ethnic pride, our local family-oriented events are welcome signs of spring, reasons to rejoice in the pandemic-safer outdoors, and great opportunities for downtown businesses. town, with so many people lining the streets.
I have observed or participated in such wonderful events in honor of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, for most of my long life. Sciatica and other illnesses, however, have recently taken me out of the line of march and sent me to the sidelines to cheer on my friends and fellow members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
While the parades are fun, they say little about the important role Irish-Americans have played in our country’s past and present. I wish people knew more about the magnificent contributions of Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans to the shaping and preservation of the United States, and its enduring exceptionalism. Science, government, education, labor movement, military, civil rights, justice, police, arts, music and literature, industry, business, journalism and many more areas would be profoundly less important were it not for what Irish-Americans have done and continue to do.
March is Irish-American Heritage Month, a good time for all of us to learn about or remember some of the people who made America great.
Six of the last seven presidents – and half of all American business leaders – were of Irish descent, including Biden, Reagan, Kennedy, Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt and Grant.
More than 25% of George Washington’s revolutionary army was made up of Irish Americans. Of the country which provided him with such brave soldiers, Washington said: “Ireland, friend of my country in my country’s most friendless days, land very wounded and enduring, accept this poor tribute from him who esteems your worth and mourns your desolation.” A hero of that war, Commodore John Barry of Ireland, was the first commissioner of the new United States Navy.
Two hundred and fifty-seven Medal of Honor recipients were born in Ireland. Dan Daley received two Medals of Honor for separate actions, and would have received a third had he not already had two.
Walt Disney, actor and dancer Gene Kelly, dancer Michael Flatley, playwright Eugene O’Neill, and authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Malachy McCourt were/are Irish-Americans. Bruce Springsteen is of partial Irish ancestry, as is John Ford, who has the most Oscar awards for best director, at age four. Car manufacturer Henry Ford had Irish blood in his veins.
The first woman to command a NASA space mission was astronaut Col. Eileen Collins, an Irish-American. The first American to walk in space was Irish-American Kathryn Sullivan.
Edward J. Flanagan was born in a small stone house in County Roscommon, Ireland. He would become Father Flanagan of Boys Town, Omaha, Neb., and a beloved activist on behalf of children. Mary Harris, aka Mother Jones, was an advocate for child labor laws. Tough Kerryman Michael J. Quill was one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union.
The list of Irish America’s contributors to our nation’s greatness goes on and on. The symbols of Irish America aren’t the stereotypical leprechauns, green beer, silly plastic hats and fake freckles; The significance of Irish America is best found in the words of Washington, the names of Irish Brigade troops on the gravestones of Gettysburg, Boys Town, NASA, the American Labor Movement, and Medals of Honor.
All Americans should celebrate Irish-American Heritage Month. Educators should teach about the heroic influence of Irish Americans. Librarians should create displays. Parents should show their children how honored Irish-Americans are. Many of the notable American heroes mentioned above surely earned their own lessons in the classroom, from elementary school through college.
Wishing all Herald readers and staff a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
John O’Connell is a former editor of the Herald Community Newspapers. Comments? [email protected]