I, for one, am glad this St. Patrick’s season is over.
One of the many cliches about the Irish is that they are a fighting people. Well, we sure lived up to that stereotype in recent weeks.
Perhaps that’s because something big is at stake. Namely, the answer to the question of what does it mean to be Irish American in the 21st century?
Of course, we had the battle over gays and the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City, which reached a new level when Heineken, Guinness and other conglomerates were pressured to bow out as parade sponsors because organizers still refuse to allow gays to march under their own banner.
Forget, for a moment, that a whole bunch of Irish stereotypes smash up against each other in this story. The truly revealing thing is that, in the parade wars to come, this new tactic of boycotting sponsors may really hit parade organizers hard, thus proving that on St. Patrick’s Day the most important green is the color of money.
Given the speedy advance of gay rights in recent years, and the effectiveness of boycotting as a tactic, next year’s parade may make this year’s look nice and peaceful.
And there were other Irish fights this month.
Irish American circles were buzzing following the publication of a New York Times opinion column on Sunday entitled “Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia.”
Written by Irish American Timothy Egan, the column argues that the conservative Republican Ryan is a traitor to his Irish roots because he advocates cutting social services for the poor and needy.
“You can’t help noticing the deep historic irony that finds a Tea Party favorite and descendant of Famine Irish using the same language that English Tories used to justify indifference to an epic tragedy,” Egan writes, referring to the Great Hunger.
And there it is. According to Egan, Ryan’s Irish roots (especially if he is going to flaunt them, as he has on occasion) should not only compel him to run away from the Tea Party but to also roll up his sleeves and get to work at the soup kitchen.
Conservative Irish Americans — Ryan, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and on and on -- remain a baffling species because their opinions seem so at odds with the experience of the Irish in America.
Such bafflement crossed the line into bitterness in another much-discussed article, “How Did My Fellow Irish Americans Get so Disgusting?”
Posted on Salon.com last week, Andrew O’Hehir writes that “Irishness is [now] a nonspecific global brand of pseudo-old pubs, watered-down Guinness, ‘Celtic’ tattoos and vague New Age spirituality, designed to make white people feel faintly cool without doing any of the hard work of actually learning anything.”
O’Hehir is also disdainful of Irish right-wingers, though he carelessly lumps Long Island Congressman Peter King together with the likes of Hannity.
O’Hehir acknowledges Irish American progressives, though curiously thinks of them strictly in the past tense.
Why is that? Since the Hannitys and O’Reillys yell loudest, does that mean they win?
The great Malachy McCourt likes to say that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland and they all came to America and became conservatives. That’s a good laugh line.
But 21st century Irish Americans can’t simply dismiss their right-leaning brothers and sisters. The diversity as well as numbers of Irish American conservatives -- from Fox News to Breezy Point, where lefty New York Mayor Bill de Blasio barely got 10 percent of the vote -- suggests there is something significant at play.
Nevertheless, if Irish American conservatives are going to flaunt their roots, their contradictions and hypocrisies should be exposed at every turn, thus offering a more complex, alternative Irish American vision for the 21st century.
Otherwise, there may soon be some truth in O’Hehir’s wild overstatement: “When you think of the face of white rage in America, it belongs to a red-faced Irish dude on Fox News.”
I guess that means more fighting, huh?
(Tom Deignan (tdeignan.blogspot.com) will be discussing “The 20 Books Every Irish American Should Read” at the Pavonia Branch of the Jersey City library at 7 p.m. on March 31.)
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