Top of the mornin to ya. How was your St. Paddie’s Day? Did you embrace your inner Irish? Oh, for certain I did.
I suppose you’re wondering what St. Patrick’s Day is all about, huh? I mean it’s not like we go all out and parade down Main Street for St. Valentine. Although that would be kind of fun. Instead of brauts, sauerkraut and greenies for those who drink beer, we’d be eating lots of pasta and gulping vino. Sadly, I can’t eat pasta and I don’t drink wine. However, I’d love to see the decked out costumes.
Although St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated since the mid 9th century, it did not become an official feast day until the early 17th century and it did not become an official national holiday in Ireland until 1903. The first parade in Ireland wasn’t until 1920-1930s.
So you might find it odd that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade happened in the United States, and a few years before the colonists even declared independence. Yep, you read that right. The very first parade occurred in New York in 1762. Irish soldiers, serving in the British Army, wanted to honor their Catholic feast day of St. Patrick by holding a parade. Who knew, right?
A few lonely soldiers far from their motherland and all their traditions took to the streets. I imagine this event was quite popular with the Irish indentured servants. Ah, can you imagine that sense of pride welling up in each Irishman?
Erin go Bragh!!
Those poor Brits probably didn’t have a clue as to what was going on or how to handle it, especially since things weren’t always quite so peachy between the two nations. And look, over 250 years later and the bagpipers are still parading.
Just think, Britain continually tried to stamp out Scottish pride, had taken Hong Kong from China, had some control over India and the Irish were subject to Penal Laws, which oddly enough, one such law banned Catholics from serving in the armed forces or holding firearms.
The prejudices against the Irish Catholics and Presbyterians made life more than difficult for them in Ireland, even before the Potato Famine. During a sixty year period, between 1820-1880, a second wave of immigration occurred where over 3 million Irishmen left their homes for the shores of America. Most were poor having left loved ones. Many of them left after having buried loved ones. You can read more about the Potato Famine from Betty’s post here.
It wasn’t just the famine that forced the Irish from their homes. It was a succession of events that began with a need for power. The Penal Laws, enacted by Britain, forced many Irish from their lands. Their farms were taken or they were forced to farm them for the new owners. However, they were not allowed to enjoy any of the fruits of their labors, which forced them to grow and live on a quick and easy crop, the potato.
Basically, if you weren’t a Protestant, you were nothing. Here are a few of the Penal Laws as listed on Wiki against Catholics and Presbyterians.
- Exclusion of Catholics from most public offices.
- Presbyterians were barred from public office from 1707.
- Ban on intermarriage with Protestants; repealed 1778
- Presbyterian marriages were not recognized
- Catholics barred firearms or serving in the armed forces (rescinded by Militia Act of 1793)
- exclusion from voting until 1793;
- Exclusion from the legal professions repealed (respectively) 1793 and 1829.
- ban on foreign education; repealed 1782.
- Catholics were barred from Trinity College Dublin, repealed 1793.
- An heir could benefit by conversion to the Church of Ireland.
- Catholic inheritances of land were to be equally subdivided between all an owner’s sons with the exception that if the eldest son and heir converted to Protestantism that he would become the one and only tenant of estate and portions for other children not to exceed one third of the estate.
- Ban on converting from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism on pain of Praemunire: forfeiting all property estates and legacy to the monarch of the time and remaining in prison at the monarch’s pleasure. In addition, forfeiting the monarch’s protection. No injury however atrocious could have any action brought against it or any reparation for such.
- Ban on Catholics inheriting Protestant land
- Prohibition on Catholics owning a horse valued at over £5
- When allowed, new Catholic churches were to be built from wood, not stone, and away from main roads.
- ‘No person of the popish religion could instruct youth within Ireland. Twenty pound fine and 3 months in prison.
I even read somewhere that Catholics were not allowed to immigrate to the colonies for many years.
Now you may be thinking that many of these acts were repealed before the second wave. However, the damage was already done. Under the Popery Act, Catholic land ownership in Ireland went from 25% in 1688 to 5% in 1776. Yes, 1776, not too long after that first St. Patrick’s Day parade. And as you can see, many of these Penal Laws hadn’t been repealed when this parade occurred, which most definitely meant that, YES, the Catholic Irish were making a stand.
They had pretty much everything taken from them, with the promise that if they renounced their religion and accepted the new Church of Ireland, some things might be restored. But they refused. And here they were in a new land, subservient to those who controlled their lives and they were parading, celebrating an ancient Catholic feast day.
Erin go Bragh!!
I have chills writing the Gaelic words, and if I’m to be honest, my eyes are tearing up.
You see, that first parade was a miracle of sorts. It was a people rising up and claiming they were not defeated. The parades continued through the years. Obviously, we still celebrate them here in the United States. For that second wave of immigrants, and their descendants, the celebrations mean just as much to them as that first one did to its participants.
I love this bit I found on Immigration: The Irish
However materialistically poor they were, the Irish were rich in cultural resources, developing institutions that helped them face hardship without despair. Cultural events such as St. Patrick’s Day were regarded by most Americans as evidence of the separateness of these immigrants, but helped hold the Irish culture together.
You can read more here .
Today, Americans, no matter their ethnicity, embrace their inner Irish and partake in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. People will talk about St. Patrick and what he did to earn sainthood. Some will feast on traditional Irish foods as has been done for hundreds of years, but not many will truly understand the significance of the parade or how it came about, all because of a few men who stood up for what they believed.
Writing Prompt: Colin lifted his chin a little higher….