Since 1991, March has been recognized by American presidents of both parties as “Irish American Heritage Month, a time when all Americans are called upon to “celebrate the achievements of Irish Americans and their contributions to our Nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.”
This year, when St. Patrick’s Day parades and other annual celebrations of Irish Heritage have been canceled out of respect for the health of the community, Irish American Heritage Month takes on added significance. Sadly, despite the innumerable contributions that Irish immigrants and their descendants have made to our country, Irish American Heritage Month is more often recognized in the breach than in the observance, and we should all ask, “Why?” Without the sound of the pipes and parade spectators’ cheering at events organized by the Irish American community themselves, the deafening silence amongst our educational institutions and the media in recognizing the Irish American Heritage Month is conspicuous. Given that our elected officials have made the public celebration of Irish heritage untenable, do they not have a moral obligation to see that the contributions the Irish have made are acknowledged by official recognition and educational programs in our schools?
Brothers, if we do not perpetuate our history and traditions, no one else will. Heritage is not a gift you receive; it is a gift you give to the next generation. Our ancestors have kept the tradition alive amidst the Vikings, Elizabeth I, Cromwell, and Trevelyan. Our ancestors have risked imprisonment, transportation, and even death to keep our identity, history, and traditions alive. Are we going to let our heritage die on our watch simply because we did not take the time to speak to the young people in our lives about where we came from, what our ancestors endured and overcame, and why we should be proud?
In the Month of March, the National AOH will be running a series of profiles of Irish Americans who have made contributions to our county. I ask you to please read them and, most importantly, like and share them with your friends and family on social media. The AOH National will also be doing multiple webinars, one from Dr. Ruan O’Donnell on the Irish American role in Ireland’s fight for independence and another by Damien Shiels on the Irish in the American Civil war. Anyone who has heard these gentlemen speak knows that their presentations are as enjoyable as they are informative. There will also be a webinar on the little-known life of Michael McGovern, “the Puddler Poet”, an Irish immigrant who worked in the steel mills of Ohio (a “puddler” stirs the molten iron until it reaches the proper temperature to be cast) and yet wrote numerous poems on Ireland, immigration and the life of the working man.
Perhaps the most exciting development is that for each of the first 17 days of March, a series of short (15 minutes) “Gaelscoil” videos shall be offered on AOH.com. These videos will be produced by the highly successful “Gaelscoil” program in New Jersey and are aimed at young children. Each day will be a short introduction to Irish history, culture, sport, and traditions. They can be watched at any time you have a spare 15 minutes. What a great way to share your heritage with your children and foster in them a love of who they are.
Brothers, we all miss and are yearning for the joy and social interaction of our parades, but for now it is even more important that for now we keep the tradition alive. We should still show our pride in decorating our homes during the month of March; how much more important is it to make a statement that “I am proud to be Irish” than it is to celebrate Halloween (which Irish immigrants brought to this country). We will get through COVID-19, but until then, let us make clear to those around us, especially our young people, that we are proud to be Irish and tell them why.