Friday, March 21, 2008

*March 17th or Easter, 1916?- A Note On The Irish Diaspora

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the Irish Easter 1916 Rising for their right to national self-determination against British imperialism.


Over the past few weeks I have been answering a questionnaire (and posting some of the relevant responses on this site) given to me by a member of my high school class (of 1964) committee. I, innocently, took on this task in gratitude for some help she had given me in searching for a couple of guys from my old working class neighborhood. At some level this task is a monstrosity but, at another level, it is actually fun. I am far enough removed from that time to not be offended by any question thrown at me but also have become thoughtful enough about the questions to be able to present a few conclusions here once in a while.

The original question had two parts, only the second part of which is presented here. I am omitting most of the first part, the funny part. It involved answering a question about whether we skipped school on March 17th (Saint Patrick's Day) to go into Boston for the parade. If I did not mention it before my neighborhood, and the area serviced by my high school was, while not "Little Dublin", honeycombed with families with some degree of Irish descent. Unlike the City of Boston, where it is a holiday, we inner suburbanites did not get the day off and needed to be 'sick' to attend the parade.(Note: Boston, officially, celebrates the day as Evacuation Day. I would argue that any day one can celebrate the defeat of an imperial army, in this case the bloody British, under any circumstances is a day worthy of celebration in its own right.)

Today’s Question: What part, if any, did your ethnic heritage play in your growing up?

“A Terrible Beauty Was Born” the last line from William Butler Yeats- Easter, 1916

In my last posting I mentioned that I would give my answer to the question of whether I skipped school to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day in the next posting. Part of my reasoning for not answering the question fully then was to answer the more general question posed above using my own background as a foil. By a coincidence of nature this year Saint Patrick's Day and Easter, two 'high holy days' on the Irish cultural calendar, fall on successive weeks and therefore permit this comparative analysis. Here goes.

In the interest of full disclosure I confess here (and will provide the requisite transcripts) that I never skipped school on March 17th to go to the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Boston. I do not, moreover, recall then ever really wanting to go to the event, although plenty of people in my old neighborhood did so. That is the rub. I, along with many of you, have some degree of Irish in us (just look at the names of the members of our class on the class list). Quincy was a first steppingstone in the second Diaspora (out of Ireland, out of South Boston/Dorchester) on the way to ‘lace curtain’ respectability (although my own family never made it pass 'shanty'). Today Asian Americans, particularly the Chinese and Vietnamese, have followed that well-trodden path from Boston to Quincy. In the case of my family, however, those historical roots were submerged in an American vanilla assimilationism. We never got much past the desperate fight against being dirt poor to think of such high subjects as ethnic solidarity or identity.

I have been a partisan of a just solution to the national question in Ireland and justice for the Catholic minority (and any Protestant worker who would listen)in the North almost my whole adult life. For this class member, then, the more important question has been one of not ridding Ireland of snakes but ridding it of the bloody English Army. Thus, the above-cited line commemorating Easter, 1916 and the beginning of the modern national liberation struggle in Ireland is what I would skip school for, gladly. I now take a certain pride in the accomplishments of our common Irish cultural heritage. However, it has been only very recently that I have found out that my long-departed maternal grandfather was an ardent, if quiet, Irish nationalist. It is in the blood, apparently. However, this new knowledge kind of puts one of the sources of my youthful indifference into a different perspective, doesn’t it? Chocky Ar La (Our Day Will Come) Give your story, please.

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