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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Kick me, I’m Irish

Category: Issue 9

On St. Patrick’s Day, I like to join with all the other Americans who give thanks that their ancestors had the good sense to leave Ireland. I wear green clothing and a cheap paper hat that says “Erin go Braugh” (which, translated from the Gaelic, means “I am a dork wearing a cheap paper hat”) and of course, the ubiquitous button that says, “Kiss me, I’m Irish”. Of course, if anyone tries to kiss me, my boyfriend hits him, continuing another Irish tradition called the drunken brawl.
I was born in a city that celebrates St. Paddy’s Day in a big way. They hold a huge parade, and they actually dye the Chicago river green. I’m not kidding. This tradition was started by the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, whose name, you might have noticed, was Irish. For many years, almost everybody in Chicago’s government was Irish.
When the Irish arrived in America after deciding that they were just one potato famine short of a reason to stay on the old sod, they were treated very badly in their new country. They suffered for years in cold water tenements and did the worst jobs available. Slowly, however, they worked their way up, finding their way into the police departments of America until the Irish copper became a stereotype. From there, they moved into politics. Soon, especially in Chicago, they were in charge.
The Irish then exercised the rights of all immigrant groups in America. The right to find opportunity, to work for the American Dream, and to fill city government with rampant corruption. Suddenly it was very hard to be Irish in Chicago and NOT have a city job. You didn’t always have to work at the job, or even show up, you just had to know an alderman or other city official.
Since then, there have been other mayors, with other ethnic backgrounds. There was a black mayor, Mayor Washington,  who didn’t understand how Chicago is supposed to run. He treated all neighborhoods equally, making sure street repairs and city services were distributed without bias. He didn’t fill all city jobs with his cronies or give all city contracts to his campaign contributors. The man just didn’t get the whole reason for being mayor, which is to make your friends rich. Fortunately, he died of a heart attack while in office and the real business of Chicago got back on track.
The current mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, is the son of Richard J. Daley. Richard M. seems to be a nice enough fellow, and not quite as corrupt as his dad, or at least he hasn’t been caught yet. So the Irish rule again, and on St. Patrick’s Day, the river is still dyed green.
However, the celebration on March seventeenth has only begun when the parade ends, and the green dye begins to flow downstream, where it must puzzle many people in Missouri. The real party is at the many bars which, just for the day, are Irish bars, even if they are German or Polish or Indonesian the rest of the year. There is gold in them thar drunken Irish-Americans. Enough green beer is swilled to fill the aforementioned Chicago river, though I suspect the green tinge by that time has turned more yellow.
If these revelers cause any trouble, they are just scooped up by the cops and placed in vans that are by tradition called “Paddy Wagons”, literally because they have so often been used to transport Irishmen to jail. Even the language we speak has been enriched by the Irish presence in our criminal justice system.
Late into the night, the Irish, the Irish-Americans and the Irish wannabees drink until their kidneys explode. And that is a good enough tribute to Ireland, I think, a land that is better remembered than lived in, a land whose major contributions to world culture all contain alcohol.
I celebrate in a quieter way, not being a drinker. I dye a potato green, then I don’t eat it.

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