The lead-up to March 17th and what has now become a week or even month long celebration of all things Irish, especially in the United States, is an apt time to consider the complex relationship between the Irish America of which I am a proud product and the Ireland of which I am now a part. The past twelve months have shown that there is much to celebrate, but that flash points remain.
The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and the Irish government ministers now in the US for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations will surely press the case of the undocumented and seek specifics on the implementation of President Obama’s executive action.
Yet sadly, their departures for the US were accompanied by the annual chorus of negativity to the effect that the trips are a waste of money, that little good is achieved and that Irish politicians should not travel abroad on the national holiday.
The belief held by some in Ireland that the political leaders of this tiny island country should stay home when the doors of power in the US and elsewhere are wide open to them is, quite frankly, bonkers.
Even more likely to raise the ire of those of us who treasure the relationship between Ireland and the US were comments made last year by Washington, DC based Irishman, Colm Quinn, who argued in The Irish Times that attempts to raise the plight of the Irish undocumented in the White House last March 17th were “at best missed opportunities and at worst a waste of time.” Quinn also cited the “decline in Irish American power” and claimed “the US has moved on.”
It is reprehensible to suggest that the Irish government should ever stop pursuing the best interests of its citizens, wherever they are in the world. They did not cease to be Irish when they left. And my guess is that the leaders of just about all small (and many large) countries around the world would be delighted if their influence had so declined that they only had an audience with the most powerful politicians in the US for a couple of days every year.
Reaction to “Hungry,” a planned comedy series about the famine – yes, you read that correctly – similarly manifested a divide in opinion almost as broad as the Atlantic. Columnist Donald Clarke, who a few years ago penned a vile diatribe about Irish America in The Irish Times, defended the concept of the comedy and, in so doing, turned his fire on us again. This website, he wrote sneeringly in his column featuring criticism of “Hungry” from IrishCentral contributors and historian Tim Pat Coogan, is “catering for Americans who think themselves Irish.” In a later Twitter exchange with me, he confessed that he can’t abide that strain of “Irish America that sustains sentimental views of the country.”
While I would not sign the online petition that attracted thousands of signatures calling for “Hungry” to be shelved, I cannot fathom tacit support for an indefensible premise. Moreover, Clarke’s column and the subsequent correspondence are reminders that some people on this island will never accept either the very real sense of Irishness that Irish Americans have or the fact that many of them are acutely well aware of what life is like in this country in March 2015. And that’s sad, for them.
It is heartening, however, to know that people like Quinn and Clarke are most definitely in the minority. Over the past year in Ireland, their negativity has been hugely outweighed by special moments in the ever-unfolding history of the relationship between my two countries. I’ve been lucky enough to witness some of these firsthand: from the homecoming visit of Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to Galway, to another successful American college football game in Dublin, to the third instalment of the Kennedy Summer School in Wexford.
Furthermore, the statistics, not to mention my personal experience of walking the crowded streets of Dublin and Galway, indicate that more and more Irish Americans are coming home to Ireland. With the euro in freefall, I suspect this summer will be even busier. Meals in excellent restaurants are likely to cost less than $20.00; pints of Guinness may run American tourists around $5.00 or even less. For a change, I am the one losing out on the currency exchange. I’ve already been notified by several family members and friends back in Boston of their impending travel plans. And as always, there are plenty of Irish Americans here this week.
To these visitors, and to readers in the US and around the world, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Celebrate the wonder of Irishness – and never mind the naysayers.
Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, Law Lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway and regular contributor to Irish media outlets.
* Originally published in 2015.