Dear readers, I've been sorely remiss in blog posts, but rest assured that Irish themes are never far from my brain and my life. I've started a full time job as a reporter in Manhattan, and last week my reporting duties took me to the American Irish Historical Society on 5th Avenue on the Upper East Side. The society is housed in a strikingly beautiful Beaux-Arts style townhouse, meticulously restored and grandly appointed with such trappings as 18th century Irish-crafted tables and treasures like the original flag that flew over the General Post Office during Easter Rising in 1916.
As I sat on an antique chair in front of a modernist styled maple coffee table chatting with the Executive Director, it occurred to me how easy it is to take Irish heritage for granted.
Around St. Patrick's Day, the best and the worst elements of American Irish culture come fully to light. Those who aren't Irish don ridiculous green hats and drink themselves idiotic in the name of a saint they wouldn't recognize if they tripped over his cardboard cutout; those who are either do the same or take a step back and marvel at the horror of it all. (Not that I have any room to judge, as evidenced by the accompanying photo of me, from two years ago, wearing what I called "Irish antennae"). We get the mayor making ill-timed jokes about Irish people being drunk all the time, followed by equally cringe-worthy self-righteous condemnations of such statements.
My fiance has been begging me for years now to stay home on St. Patrick's Day together, so that we can sip good whiskey and read old Irish poetry by firelight. Okay, our fireplace hasn't been operational in decades, so regular old lamp light will have to do, but you get the idea. But I keep insisting, dragging him around Manhattan to random, overcrowded bar, that we have to "celebrate" St. Patrick's Day "properly." By, you know, getting drunk.
This year, I've been unintentionally sidelined. I have a very important breakfast meeting for work on Friday, March 18 at 8:00 a.m. A meeting for which I absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, be even the faintest hint of hungover. Of course I can always push the revelry to Friday night, but it won't feel the same. I may indulge myself with a half-pint of Guinness at happy hour on March 17, but then it's off to home and bed for me.
When I first realized this, I was annoyed and depressed. But then I thought back to the American Irish Historical Society, and how much completely unearned but undeniable pride I felt in being somehow connected to great Irish Americans who contributed so much to the fabric of our nation. And they all did these amazing things - became presidents and titans of industry and women's rights advocates - despite the sometimes oppressive stereotypes that used to burden Irish immigrants and their offspring. The stereotypes of being drunk and low and getting into brawls. Exactly the kinds of things that typically happen on St. Patrick's Day in New York City, and pretty much any city across the country.
I do appreciate my Irish heritage; I think about it the other 364 days of the year, and I don't feel the need to wear T-shirts with cheeky sayings on them to feel Irish. I order Guinness from time to time when the mood strikes me, I will sometimes pick up a book of Yeats just for fun, and I rather enjoy the atmosphere at a not-too-commercialized Irish pub any day other than St. Patrick's Day, when you can't even get proper pint glasses and it takes an hour and a lot of shoving to order a beer.
Maybe I'm just getting older, but I'm almost grateful that I have an excuse to keep my celebrations low key this year. I will still try to catch a bit of the parade on my lunch break and will almost certainly take part in weekend-of festivities, but it won't be the same as St. Patrick's Days past. And that might be a good thing.