The end of a year is a time of reflection and evaluation, and so we should ask why we have a history lesson at every meeting and in every newsletter? One can argue that the history of Ireland and Irish America is often sad; a story of a people who were conquered, oppressed, driven from their homes when a crop failure was turned into an opportunity to clear the land of families who lived there for centuries, and where those who fled faced discrimination in their new homes.
One can view Irish history as “a glass half empty” and say that it is “depressing,” or “yeah, our forebears had it tough back then, but what has that to do with me in the here and now?” Or one can look beyond the names and the long-ago dates and realize a common them: that no matter what they faced, and the Irish have met more than their share of
challenges, they have always overcome. At the heart of their perseverance are four core values: their determination, their faith, their belief in family, and commitment to community.
That is the real lesson of Irish history and one that we need to be reminded of again and again to strengthen us as we face new challenges. Many of the problems we face as a nation and a world today are because we have lost those four core values. For too many, “community” is how many virtual friends they have on Facebook, friends who will never call them when they are ill or experience a loss. When you don’t have faith, when you believe that everything depends on you alone, it can be a very lonely and crushing experience. For too many, determination has given way to apathy and
It may not be politically correct, but the Irish are an exceptional people. Our history and logic say that we should no longer exist, but we do. We have withstood Vikings, Elizabeth I, Cromwell, William of Orange, Trevelyan, and the “Know-Nothings.” They said of us that we were incapable of being “True Americans,” but look at any American role of honor and notice how many names are of Irish origin. “Silly, Drunken Paddy” has left their mark in every field of human endeavor from the stage to the stars.
Yet, having survived all this, we face our biggest threat. Too many kids are growing up without their heritage. Too many school curricula minimize the Irish contribution to America, sweeping aside the challenges our forebears faced as an inconvenient truth as they pursue a politically correct narrative that presents a distorted rainbow of diversity where green is conspicuously absent. How tragic, how ironic would it be if today’s schools should succeed where the Penal\ Laws failed in eliminating the Irish consciousness? We need to make our homes the new “hedge schools.”
At this time of year, so associated with giving, let us remember that heritage is a gift you give, not receive; a remarkable gift where the more you give it, the stronger it gets, but if you don’t share, it goes stale and withers. When so many of the traditional activities have been curtailed, this Christmas make an effort to share your family history with the young, far better that the young people in your life should learn who they are and their family story from you than a DNA test.
In the year 2020, never have so many looked forward to turning the calendar. While it may still seem far off, 2020, the year of COVID-19, will likewise soon be in the history books as a landmark event; it is up to us now to determine which direction that landmark takes us. COVID-19 has been particularly hard on us as a community. History tells us that our
forebears have beaten even more formidable challenges.
At this time, as we see the light of Christmas in a dark world
and the light of a potential end to this devastating pandemic, let us resolve that we will keep the best Irish tradition alive: that as a community, we come back from every challenge stronger than ever.