The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 15, 2014

Wearing of the green

By David Christy, News Editor
Enid News and Eagle

— As it has every year since before the Declaration of Independence, before there was a U.S. Constitution, before there was a president or Congress or an American Army or Navy, Irish men and women across this land will celebrate Monday with the wearing of the green.

Yep, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, when Irish displays in stores across the country are picked over, with people purchasing paper or plastic shamrocks, green derbies and “Kiss me, I’m Irish” buttons.

And even though St. Paddie’s Day here on these shores is many times a bigger deal than on the Emerald Isle itself, you have to forgive Irish-Americans for going a little bit overboard when it comes to remembering a special heritage.

For you see, there are six times more Americans claiming Irish heritage than in Ireland itself. Some 6.3 million Irish people reside in Ireland, that rocky island west of Scotland and England, where the thick, charming brogue still resides in its purest state.

Compare that to the millions and millions of Irish who came to these shores in search of a better life over the centuries. Some 39.6 million Americans claim Irish heritage, and another five million Scots-Irish heritage.

And St. Patrick’s Day actually was popularized here in America, as much as it has been in Ireland.

It was on March 17, 1762 — long before anyone really was serious about independence and breaking away from colonial rule by the British government — that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade transpired.

It was on that 1762 day that Irish soldiers serving in the British Army decided to parade in New York City to celebrate their singular heritage.

The parade became an annual event, with President Harry Truman becoming the first president to attend in 1948, and Congress proclaiming March as Irish-American Heritage month in 1995. President Truman, like me, claimed a rich Scots-Irish heritage.

Since the Irish tended to settle America in large chunks and live within their own ethnic areas of states and cities, that fact can readily be seen on a census map.

Many with Irish ancestry today still live in northeast Pennsylvania, all of New York and large sections of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

And Oklahoma can lay claim to a substantial Irish population, with fully 16 counties in this state having more than a 10 percent makeup of people claiming Irish heritage. Almost 12 percent of Americans today claim Irish ancestry — a staggering number given the size and population of Ireland today and over its history.

Only German-Americans — from a country 16 times more populous than Ireland — claim a larger ethnic footprint than do the Irish.

Between 1820 and 1920, some 4.5 million Irish sailed to these shores to live. They began coming here from the earliest colonial days, and kept on coming.

Today, New York has more Irish-Americans than any other state, and Boston has the most of any city.

Since St. Patrick introduced Christianity to the pagan isle of Ireland in the fifth century, the day of observance has evolved from one with deep Catholic significance, to one of parades, green-beer drinking and revelry here in America.

While green is THE color of St. Patrick’s Day today, knights in the Order of St. Patrick originally wore a color known as St. Patrick’s blue.

So, why does green prevail, and the Chicago River turn green each year on March 17? Green dates back to the 1700s, when supporters of Irish independence from England used green as the color to represent their cause.

And how about the iconic corned-beef-and-cabbage meal served up on Irish plates everywhere?

In Ireland, a type of bacon similar to ham actually is served on the holiday table. Corned beef became popular on these shores when Irish immigrants, who predominated on New York City’s Lower East side, were said to have substituted the traditional bacon with corned beef, purchased from their Jewish neighbors.

Pork, it seems, is far more of a traditional Irish meat than is beef.

And, according to the History Channel, what of the biggest myth of St. Patrick — that he forever chased the snakes out of Ireland?

Well, that one certainly is on thin ice.

Being a snake-loather — to the nth degree — I appreciate there mercifully are no snakes in Ireland. But, since the last glacial epoch, and Ireland is an island surrounded by the bitterly cold Atlantic Ocean, cold-blooded snakes had no way of slithering onto Irish shores.

That story, like many in history, was an allegory for St. Patrick eradicating pagan ideology and substituting Christianity for the Irish people.

And thus, history is left to give us the wearing of the green and its rich Irish heritage.



Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at enidnews.com/historicallyspeaking.