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Irish grinches need not apply - Irish in America don’t need to be told how to celebrate their heritage

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Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne in 'The Quiet Man'

There are two types of people you hate to come across every St. Patrick’s Day season.

First, of course, is the once-a-year Irishman.  You know, the type of guy that doesn’t know the Gate Theatre from Guinness, yet hums a tune about the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder and tells anyone unlucky enough to be near him all about his Irish roots.  And it may be he’s even telling the truth about some of this stuff.

The once-a-year Irishman is up there with a host of other annoying holiday types.  Ash Wednesday just passed, so some of you surely came across the folks you rarely see in Mass on any given Sunday, yet are front and center when it’s time to dole out the ashes. 

Same thing come Palm Sunday.  Ashes and Palms. Which makes them “A & P Catholics.”

We can take some comfort in the fact that the once-a-year Irishman has been thoroughly criticized already.  In fact, he is often criticized by another holiday annoyance, a figure who has been the subject of less attention, but is possibly even more obnoxious.

Let’s call them Irish Grinches.  You know they type.  The kind of person so steeped in authentic Irishness that he has nothing but contempt for St. Patrick’s Day and all of its attendant “Oirish” traditions and customs.

They will sneer at the very mention of The Quiet Man or corned beef.  They will probably lecture you on “true” Irish culture, and offer some preachy words about Beckett or Bobby Sands or At Swim-Two-Birds.

Or they may simply wash the green off of their hands entirely.

“I am of Irish descent,” Catherine Poe wrote in a blog entry on The Washington Times web site on March 17.  “But I do not mist up on St. Paddy’s Day. ‘Danny Boy’ is maudlin treacle, even on a bagpipe. Corned beef and cabbage is only eatable with lots of mustard.”
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She later adds, “Spare me that hyphenated Irish American stuff. I am an American. We all came here to become Americans and we should have left the hyphens on the boat.”

That’s pretty much what Woodrow Wilson and other staunch patriots said back in the 1910s, decrying the supposed foreign influences caused by the heavy immigration of the late 19th and early 20th century, from Ireland and elsewhere.

It makes you realize that some people put way too much thought into what are and are not appropriate ways to express your Irish heritage. 

Yes, there are some things we can all agree on.  I should hope that most people find those green hats and T-shirts with references to drink and vomiting quite tasteless. 

It’s not that an Irish joke about drinking can’t be funny.  But when that is the only thing you link to Irish culture, well, it’s not so much offensive as it is boring and lame.

On the other hand, standing up as a defender of all that is precious and authentic about the Irish can be nearly as obnoxious.

It gets to the point where, though you may consider yourself quite versed and sophisticated when it comes to matters of Irish culture, you are also hesitant to admit a few inconvenient facts.

Such as: I loooooove Irish soda bread.  Almost as much as I love a fatty, greasy slab of corn beef!
With or without mustard, thanks very much. 

I don’t like them because they are Irish.  God knows if they even are.  I like these things because they are tasty and, yes, because they are part of a larger tradition. 

A fake, false, fabricated tradition?  Perhaps.  But a tradition nevertheless.

The Irish in America don’t need to be told what they should or shouldn’t be doing to celebrate their heritage. 

Yes, an unfortunate consequence of this is the annoying once-a-year Irishman.  But the grumpy Irish Grinches who moan about all that is inauthentic about St. Patrick’s Day really aren’t much better. They simply want to seem smarter and more sophisticated than most other Irish people. 

And if that makes them happy, more power to them.

Me?  Sure, I’ll take a copy of Finnegan’s Wake or At Swim-Two-Birds.  But I want some corned beef and soda bread on the side.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at facebook.com/tomdeignan.  Visit youtube.com to see Tom Deignan discuss the history of “The Irish on Mott Street.”)

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