By: Grace McDermott
Around St. Patricks Day a TON of crappy “How to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day” posts go around touting outdated and frankly bullshit suggestions about ‘how to get your Irish on’.
There is nothing wrong with having a few beers with friends on St. Patrick’s Day, because that is a real and wonderful part of Irish culture and community. However, to have the sum total of your annual celebration, recognition or pride center on this, is reductive and frankly, stupid. The proselytization of Irish-ness as merely alcohol consumption is astounding from so many “proud” Irish Americans. We can do better.
As an American living in Ireland for nearly 6 years now, I can say without reservation that Ireland is an amazing place to live. Ireland is a country that exists in nuance, complexity and depth outside of the month of March. It cannot be distilled down to Lucky Charms (they don’t even sell it here) or Guinness, and like all places it has its ups, downs and in-betweens.
Irish citizens are humans and not the ‘happy-go’-lucky’ hooligans stereotyped depictions of them would have us believe. At their best they are artists, activists, authors, humanitarians business leaders, and musicians.
If you are proud of your Irish heritage or interested in Irish culture there are so many ways to celebrate that are respectful, non-appropriative and most importantly, worthwhile this ‘holiday’ season. Save your money on the “Kiss Me I’m Irish” booty shorts, and invest in the intellectual and cultural history/future of this awesome island.
In lieu of all of the shitty St. Patrick’s Day articles floating around the internet here’s my list of a few relevant, valid and respectful things you can do to celebrate Paddy’s day, the right way:
1.Forget outdated stereotypes built on the Ireland of our Grandparents
While Irish history is interesting, important and in many ways charming and romantic the reality is that Ireland today is a much different place than 80 or 100 years ago.Ireland is in many ways more socially progressive than the US (though like any place, there are still areas that need work). Ireland was the first country in the world to pass the right for gay couples to marry by popular vote. Despite a long and complicated history with the Catholic Church, Irish people continue to come out in favor of equality, progress and respect for their fellow citizens. While much of the Irish American identity continues to revolve around conservative ideals (as proved by the recent controversy regarding the attendance of LGBTQ organization at the Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade) this does not reflect the reality of Ireland today.
Moreover, while agriculture, farming and rural-living remain an important part of Ireland there is another side to the country that the media often ignores. Ireland is home to big business and Dublin particularly, is a cosmopolitan and international city. In recent years the country’s low corporate tax rate, and educated population has driven a large-scale tech boom. Ireland is home to the European HQ’s of Google, Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB and Apple to name a few. There are tons of Irish tech websites where you can follow Irish tech leaders and industry. My favorites are: http://siliconrepublic.com and http://irishtechnews.ie.
2. Buy Irish
While your leprechaun suit may be cool for about a day and a half, there are thousands of Irish designers, artist and craftsman who sell goods online that you can actually use or wear every day! I like:
- Irish Design Shop: for a range of beautiful things from artists across the country
- Chupi: The most GORGEOUS jewelry ever.
- Lucia B: A painter with an eye and talent for painting stunning freckly faces and the scenes of Inis Mor, one of the Aran Islands.
- MiniMaxi: Bought one of my favorite necklaces from the Dublin-based designer, who does prints too
- Carousel: Irish made and designed vintage clothing:
3. Read up on the Irish political system
Ireland has a President, an Taoiseach and a few other positions I had never heard of until
I moved here. They have the potential to have coalition government , and the voting system is very different to that of the US. Also, they had a female president, before female presidents were a thing (in 1990!). Her name is Mary Robinson. They had a second female president too, Mary McAleese
So, basically… #presidentgoals.
4. Educate yourself on issues impacting Ireland today
At the moment, the public call for a referendum on the 8th Amendment is a huge issue. The 8th Amendment currently blocks Irish women from having access to free, safe and legal abortions on Irish shores. As a result many women have died, or are forced to travel to seek a safe abortion. Of course, as in the States, there are opinions on both sides of this issue. Either way, the “Repeal the 8th Movement” is one that all Irish Americans should educate themselves on, regardless of their stance. This video is worth watching.
It is important to remember that although you may not be able to vote in Ireland, you can speak up for and support causes you care about via digital advocacy, education and by the way you vote at home. There is a New York chapter and others across the country marching and organizing in support of the Irish call to “Repeal the 8th”. Other similar support initiatives exist in the states: #TheIrishStand is another that comes to mind, marching for equality and justice on this St. Patrick’s Day.
Other recent events including the horrific situation involving the Tuam mother and baby home are important to be aware. These issues are connected to the long history of restricted female bodily autonomy in Ireland: http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/i-am-haunted-by-the-names-of-the-tuam-babies-what-would-they-have-become-1.3005354
5. Learn some Irish
No one who is actually Irish calls it “Gaelic”, they call it “Irish” or “Gaeilge” (sounds like: GaleGAH) so if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, probably start there. The reason for the “Irish” vs. “Gaelic” thing is complicated. I still don’t fully understand it, but trust me on this one, not one person I know here calls it Gaelic, so just don’t.
Irish is super cool and totally different than anything you have ever heard. There is a ton of silent letters, letter combinations etc. that make reading Irish for newcomers REALLY difficult. All the signs here are in both Irish/ English, and I actually have a few friends speak Irish as a first language. Despite what you may have heard, Irish is a thriving language that many Irish people know how to speak, and all Irish people learn in school. The Irish-American names we so often hear (for example, Colleen or Erin) are not all that popular here, because they in fact are Irish-American names and not Irish names.
- If you want to hear what Irish sounds like, listen: http://bit.ly/1ExBeJE
- You can start practicing today with DuoLingo (a free app!). I started a few months ago and I am still pretty bad, but it is fun and worth a shot!
- Also, http://www.asannua.com is a bilingual blog (English/Irish) that gives you a great opportunity to hear from Irish voices.
6. Educate yourself on, understand and advocate for Irish immigrants and other immigrants in your area.
Irish people have a long history of emigration. The reasons for Irish emigration have always been diverse, despite the fact that US history classes would tell us it started and ended with the famine. I met my Irish fiancé while working in Australia, a place where thousands of young Irish immigrants live today. New York, California and Chicago remain hotspots for Irish immigrants in the US, but you can find Irish people in every state.
While Irish immigrants living in the US are often spoken about with a type of excpetionalism, separating them from Mexicans, Muslims, Africans, etc. the reality is that the struggle for legal and safe immigration into the US continues to be a challenge form many Irish people and Irish families.
While I can attest to the Irish immigration processes being difficult, the US legislation that continues to effect immigrants in the US has a HUGE impact on Irish communities. Illegal immigration of Irish people into the US is a common occurrence.
Thus, consider your Irish identity and pride, when speaking or voting on immigration policies. Although Irish immigrants may be your history they remain a reality for America today. Moreover, their struggles are embedded and inalienable from the struggles of other immigrant populations in the US.
7. Listen to Irish Musicians.
In the last few years I have tried St.Patrick’s Day playlists curated by Spotify that were loaded with English and American artists. That’s cool, but again, not Irish. Music is probably my favorite part of living in Ireland. It’s on the streets, in the pubs and totally amazing. Here are some actual Irish musicians you should listen to:
- The Gloaming
- The Heathers
- Saint Sister
- Wyvern Lingo
- Sinead OConnor
- Mary Black
- Mick Flannery
- Hermitage Green
- Lisa Hannigan
- We Cut Corners
- Damien Rice
- Glen Hansard
- The Coronas
8. Ditch the xenophobic language and get the terminology/country right.
Firstly, it’s “Paddy’s Day” this is what Irish people call it, why, I still do not know. Also, bagpipes and kilts don’t belong to Ireland, that’s Scotland.
On a more serious note, every year at this time I find it disheartening to have to explain this to people. If you love Ireland, are interested it, want to wear green and party in the name of Ireland, the least you can do is not be a dick about it. Ordering an “Irish Car Bomb” and even “Irish Car Bomb” recipes continue to be a normal occurrence this time of year. Real Irish car bombs were not and are not funny. This is disgusting, particularly coming from Americans who understand the real, painful implications of terrorism. Just don’t do it.
Also, the “Irish Yoga” shirts (of passed out people), “Kiss Me I’m Drunk” etc. is damaging whether or not you think so. Why should you not do this if it’s not ‘hurting’ anyone? Well, non-Irish people under the guise of the “drunken Paddy” stereotype often trivialize actual Irish people and they’re suffering. In other words, when actual bad things happen to actual Irish people others often dismiss or make light of it because they believe they too are “Irish” or that the Irish identity itself is a joke. This works against Irish people in the same way any racist/sexist/social othering does. Don’t think this happens? You should familiarize your self with the New York Times coverage of a Berkley balcony collapse that killed 5 Irish young people in 2015.
I am all in favor of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by non-Irish people, Irish Americans etc. but only if done so respectfully. As Americans we hold our national identity as a sacred source of pride, so don’t disrespect someone else’s that doesn’t belong to you and call it a holiday.
9. Talk to an actual Irish person
Being Irish American is NOT remotely the same. If you are interested in Ireland or proud of your heritage, it is your responsibility to learn about what it means to be Irish now. If that means going out of your comfort zone, and meeting someone new, good.
I can tell you about Ireland all I want BUT I did not grow up here, my parents are not from here, and my experiences will always be different than my Irish counterparts. In the same way, YOUR Irish American identity is not the same as being an Irish person. This can be a hard pill to swallow when in the States, we are fed the notion of our cultural heritage being a defining characteristic our identity. Accepting that you are NOT Irish, but rather, an Irish American is an important step towards becoming an educated, and supportive ally for Ireland.
10. Visit Ireland
Ireland is a really safe and easy place to travel. The people are wonderful, the sites are amazing, and as I said, the music is like nowhere else in the world. Flights from New York and Boston are very affordable and are only about 6.5 hours. From other parts of the states, it is a bit more expensive but definitely worth the investment. What better way to show your Irish pride then to get on a plane and visit. You never know, I did that 6 years ago and here I sit, writing to you from my Dublin apartment!
In the last 6 years, Ireland has given me so much and over the last few thousand years it has given the world a bit too. I think it’s time we start doing it some justice at home. Happy Paddy’s Day everyone!