And so today March 17 marks the anual St. Patrick’s Holiday in the United States. St. Patrick (AD 387–461) was the missionary who brought Christianity to Ireland and converted them from their “pagan” ways. The holiday which began as a catholic holiday is now very secular and, like the Mardi Gras, has become a day of revelry and celebration of Irish culture. In Ireland, it is a public holiday. In the United States, it is just a day where people wear green, where the fountain in front of the White House and the Chicago River among many waters in the country are dyed green.
It doesn’t however mean that everyone who wears green or gets drunk on Guinness on this day in the US is of Irish descent or knows anything about Ireland. More often than not, it is just the chance to belong. There was a St. Patrick’s day parade last weekend in Chicago, and I’m sure in many other American cities but I couldn’t attend. I asked one of my students to name five famous Irish citizens. He didn’t know. The ones I can remember are John F. Kennedy, George Carlin, George Bernard Shaw, WB Yeats, Conan O’ Brien, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift, among others.
And he was impressed with my ability to come up with those names spontaneously, much to my surprise.