My mother was fiercely proud of her Irish heritage. Most of her grandparents were Irish immigrants to this country and her maiden name was so Irish (Maureen Veronica O’Brien) that you would expect her purse to be filled with shamrocks.
When we moved from her native state of Massachusetts to my father’s native state of Kentucky, she even wrote “Irish-American” down for my siblings and I as our nationality when filling out the school admittance records.
It seems far-fetched by today’s standards, but at that time in the late 60’s, she was dealing with being identified as an Irish Catholic Yankee democrat in a word of southern Kentucky Republican Baptists. It wasn’t an easy transition for her – or us – and perhaps it was her way of keeping her independence intact.
Undoubtedly, Saint Patrick’s Day and the whole Irish Pride package that came along with it was huge during my childhood. The wearing of the green, no matter how corny, was a must and there was little that could be done about it.
Standing at the bus stop looking like a miniature version of the Jolly Green Giant wasn’t the easiest gig in the world, but it was only for one day and her “Erin go braghness” had seeped in by that point in any case.
However, as the years went by, my siblings and I drifted further away from the S.P.D. traditions (as teenagers are oft to do) and it became somewhat of a back-burner holiday as we became more identified with life in Kentucky.
Today, so many years, states and experiences later – I can’t help but think of my mother (who passed in 1989) on Saint Patrick’s Day. I even traveled to Ireland several year ago to visit the ancestral town of my great-grandparents, but at this time in my life, my concept of “Irish Pride” has changed dramatically.
In this politically charged and contentious culture, I’m more interested now in what makes us similar rather than what sets us apart. Pride based in individuality just doesn’t do it for me. There’s simply too much of it and it’s highly overrated.
I don’t feel better than anyone else because of my Irish Heritage, or the color of my skin, my religion, my stature, my skill as an artist. I truly believe that all of those things don’t make me “better than” – they just make me – me.
Maybe Saint Patrick’s Day is less about Irish Pride and more about the little, happy-go-lucky leprechaun in all of us who’s always optimistic that there’s a pot of gold out there under a rainbow somewhere – reachable by all – if you just know where to look. And maybe the first place we have to look is inside our own hearts and then inside the hearts of all mankind.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day one and all….