My hero this St. Pat’s Day shares the same last name as me, but is otherwise unrelated. She is also far from the kind of star performer we usually see, a la Michael Flatley at this green time of the year.
Jean O’Dowd is an ordinary Long Island New York mother, proud to death of her Irish heritage and looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day year after year to celebrate with her family.
So imagine her shock when Roanoke Elementary School where her son Patrick is in fourth grade left her a pre-recorded message that St. Patrick’s Day was no longer operative and instead March 17 would be “heritage day.”
Jean was incensed. ”When they told me it would not be St. Patrick’s Day anymore I saw red,” she told Newsday. “ I thought that some woman by fiat, as the principal could decide it’s not important to celebrate the Irish and that seemed rather extreme."
Jean O’Dowd happens to believe in St. Patrick’s Day and considers it a very significant day in her family’s life. Her son is called after the Irish patron saint and she herself celebrates by hanging out the Irish flag on her porch and cooking a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner.
Once she cooked up 125 pounds of corned beef at her local VFW Hall so she could share the day with others. She loves her Irish heritage pure and simple. She believes everyone else should love their heritage equally too, but St. Patrick’s Day should be left to the Irish and eveyone who wants to be Irish to celebrate on.
Jean called everyone she could reach at the school and at the school district headquarters. She stormed the barricades in defense of a history and heritage handed down since the days of Washington’s army when the first ever St. Pat’s parade took place in New York City.
And she succeeded. By the time she was finished, St. Patrick’s Day was back in and the generic Heritage Day was moved to somewhere else on the calendar.
Even Riverhead school superintendent Dianne Scricca eventually agreed with her. “I think it was a mistake, to tell you the truth, an error," she said.
Good. However, Debra Rogers, principal at the Roanoke school who made the call on heritage day refused to answer newspaper queries.
Folks, we have enough trouble on this earth right now without messing with one of the most joyous days on the calendar. I believe this nonsense of heritage day could be a slippery slope in years to come, like those who sought to diminish Christmas a few years back.
We’re all for celebrating the wonderful ethnic makeup of America. Our president has proudly described himself as a "mutt”, perhaps his most endearing moment. But the United States of Mutthood means that we come from many lands, with wonderful and different traditions.
Should joyous days like Cinco De Mayo, Columbus Day, Purim and Steuben Day also be ground down into a common heritage day?
Of course not. Thank you, Jean O’Dowd, for your common sense and commitment.