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Sunday, May 1, 2016

It's good to be Irish

Monday, March 17, 2008

New York City and other east coast locations may claim to have the largest Irish populations in the U.S., but Putnam County has a wee bit of the Irish too.

With 11.3 percent of the population being of Irish descent, it's no wonder the county is so green. You can find O'Neils, O'Neals and O'Briens along with O'Hairs. There are Gilberts and Gilleys, Murphys, Smiths and Fitzpatricks, Moores, Quinns, Kennedys, Hayes, Stewarts and Robinsons.

There are 34.7 million U.S. residents who claim Irish ancestry. This number is almost nine times the population of Ireland itself (4.2 million). Irish is the nation's second most frequently reported ancestry, trailing only those of German ancestry.

For you non-Irish and Irish at heart, St. Patrick's Day is an annual feast day celebrated on March 17. It is the national holiday of Ireland, which the Irish have observed as a religious holiday for thousands of years.

Believe it or not, the first St. Patrick's Day parade took place not in Ireland but in the United States. On March 17, 1762 Irish soldiers serving it the English military marched through New York City playing Irish music and reconnecting with their fellow Irishmen.

Over the next 35 years, Irish patriotism among American immigrants flourished, prompting the rise of societies like the Irish Aid, Friendly sons of St. Patrick and the Hibernian Society. Each group would hold annual parades featuring bagpipes and drums.

Up until the mid-19th century, most Irish immigrants were members of the Protestant middle class. When the great potato famine hit Ireland in 1845, close to a million poor, uneducated, Catholic Irish poured into America to escape starvation.

Despised for their religious beliefs and odd accents by the American Protestant majority, the immigrants had trouble finding jobs.

However, the Irish soon realized their great numbers gave them political power. They began organizing and developed a voting block, known as the "green machine," and eventually becoming an important swing vote for political hopefuls.

Suddenly, annual St. Patrick's Day parades became a show of strength. In 1948, President Harry Truman attended New York City's St. Patrick's Day parade, celebrated by the many Irish whose ancestors had to fight stereotypes and racial prejudice to find acceptance in America.

In modern day Ireland, St. Patrick's Day has traditionally been a religious occasion. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish laws said that pubs had to be closed on March 17.

However, in 1995, the Irish government began a national campaign to use the day as an opportunity to drive tourism and showcase Ireland.

Last year, more than a million people took place in Ireland's St. Patrick's Festival in Dublin.

Many symbols are connected to the Irish and St. Patrick. Leprechauns, shamrocks, snakes and Celtic cross all represent Ireland.

The belief in leprechauns probably stems from Celtic belief in fairies, tiny men and women who used their magical powers to serve good or evil.

In Celtic folktales, leprechauns were "cranky souls" responsible for mending the shoes of other fairies. They were also known for their trickery.

Leprechauns had nothing to do with St. Patrick. In 1959, Walt Disney released a film called Darby O'Gill and the Little People, which introduced Americans to a different sort of leprechaun. This one was cheerful and friendly, and solely, an American invention.

The first mention of the shamrock does not appear until nearly a thousand years after Patrick's death. It is a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring.

By the 17th century it had become a symbol of emerging Irish nationalism.

There is an old Irish joke that says, "When the Irish say that St. Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland, what they don't tell you is that he was the only one who saw any snakes!" It must be true because Ireland was never home to any snakes.

Most people believe this was a metaphor for eradicating pagan ideology from Ireland. Within 200 hundred years of Patrick's arrival in Ireland, the county was completely Christianized.

St. Patrick himself is seen as a mystery. Many stories traditionally associated of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs are attributed to him.

For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire.

He also superimposed a sun onto the Christian cross creating what is known as a Celtic cross.

An Irish proverb says this: "May your neighbors respect you, Troubles neglect you, the angels protect you, and Heaven accept you."

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