Thursday, March 17, 2011

It Was Death, Starvation or Exile

This is a day that, as full of Irish heritage as I am (along with so much else (maybe more?)), I get more than a little creeped out by the celebrations of all that is emerald even when it's not. There's a claim that there are more persons of Irish descent living in New York City than there are in Dublin, but I suspect that's a statement you can make without (nearly) fear of contradiction about almost every ethnicity who've come to settle here in the The Land of the Round Doorknobs.

Whether your tastes run from Danny Kaye singing Danny Boy to U2 through The Chieftains or Horslips and how you wash down your bubble and squeak, if you're celebrating being Irish or pretending to be Irish, or you just like to bathe with Irish Spring, hope the day is a good one.

When The Gangs of New York was making the rounds, I watched it like a deer in the headlights growing more disquieted and discomfited with each frame. Though I was already old enough to realize history is written by the winners and should have been old enough to know better, I learned of a past of which I had only suspected.

For cinema, the movie had more than an inconvenient truth or two about alternatives to the 'melting pot' (myth) explanation every child received as part of her/his American history classes in grade schools across this country for most if not all of our growing up years. (And I'm not just talking about Leo's accent.)

Instead what more of us learned as we aged was that we have as many dirty little secrets as we have truths we hold to be self-evident (and sometimes the former is also the latter but in that case is always unacknowledged). The stories of the 1863 draft riots in New York City during the Civil War were as well-known in their time as the number of leaves on a shamrock and the animus and enmity directed at 'the others' (of all stripes) is true to this day, a century and a half later.

As it happens, Patrick, maybe there's a deeper reason why you order the beverage you do when we dine out together-we just didn't know it. And whether you're marching down that New York City Fifth Avenue today or in any of the hundreds of slightly out of control celebrations across the nation that we tend to use to get us closer to spring, spare a thought for the Battalion de San Patricio five thousand miles from a home to which they could never return who became a Legion of Strangers to those who would have been their countrymen, but refused.
-bill kenny

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