Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why the Irish, and Why Saint Patrick's Day?


"What are you?" is a retarded and incredibly offensive question that I get asked way too often. What people are really asking, of course is "What's your ethnicity?" or if you want to be crude, "You seem white, but you're too dark. Explain."

Nothing seems to bring out this retarded line of questioning more than my love and celebration of St. Patrick's day. When push comes to shove, i don't see any reason why i should explain my love of a "Drinking Holiday" and yet, i feel strongly enough about my journey into the struggles of the Irish people to give a little explanation.

My general anglophilia was sparked at an early age by a grandfather who embraced his Scotch heritage, no matter how distant. Yes, the name "Lamont" is of scottish ancestry and if you dig far back enough even Irish, but let's face it. I'm as Mexican as a tamale being sold out of a cooler. Being a weird little Mexican kid in Colorado Springs with an "Abuelito" provided collection of Scottish tin soldiers, not to mention endless history books and an early exposure to war movies like ZULU, LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER, THE FOUR FEATHERS, GUNGA DIN, and and endless array of pith-helmeted books and stories, it wasn't very long before you had a fifth grader who cherished his copy of "The Illustrated Charge of The Light Brigade".

"Half a League, half a league, half a league onward!"

Its no wonder I can't remember where my keys are most of the time.

It was around the time of what i consider my political awakening when my shockingly conservative hometown finally started to get aggravating, that I decided to champion liberal causes and piss everybody off. At this time, my family was embroiled in an epic argument regarding religion, and I was forced to attend confirmation classes and "Go through the motions" despite the fact that i had been confirmed when I was 7 by a Cardinal, no less. So my Catholicism and liberalism were bound for a head-on collision, and that collision took place in the newspapers and literature of Irish republicanism and "The Troubles".

I'll spare you the history lesson, and leave that to the brilliant and thorough documentary series I've posted below. Suffice to say that the treatment of the Irish at the hands of the British even up to the mid to late eighties forced me to rethink my romantic views on the Empire, and served as a reminder that even some of my most seemingly benign childhood affections were childish, and the world we live in is far more complex than is dreamt of when reading of Gordon in the Sudan.

So why the Irish? Because they have been a historically mistreated and sidelined people, who have struggled for equal rights and a nation longer than any other people on earth. Why St. Patrick's? It is a chance to celebrate the underdog, the poets, the dreamers and rebels who will hopefully make Ireland a nation once more.

Now, for the history lesson. Below is the entire 8 Part series of THE TROUBLES. It is a history of the epic struggle of the Irish people for a free, complete, and sovereign nation from the Easter Rebellion of 1916 to the Hunger strikes of the 1980's. hopefully it will help you understand why the music at my St. Pat's parties sometimes carry a melancholy or defiant tone, and why some decorations have a Fenian slant.


"They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn't want to be broken." - Bobby Sands MP

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1 comment:

Catrine said...

Alf,

Don't know whether you want to post this up or not, but here's my 10cents worth. I'm under no illusions about how terribly Catholics were treated in the times before the troubles, and some way into them as well. Case in point, Bloody Sunday- a complete humanitarian tragedy, not a political tool for Sinn Fein to ground swell support for more murder.

But I will never support republicanism (or loyalism) for that matter, because killing people for the romantic notion of allegiance to the Queen or Ireland is pathetic. Peoples lives are destroyed by such ideas, and I don't have to tell you (or any other American citizen) about the harm and devastation that terrorism causes. Romantic or not, it destroys lives. People are maimed for life, their parents, children, friends killed and for what- so we can pay taxes to the Queen or the Republic.

As for hunger striking, read a book called the Blanketmen (http://tinyurl.com/cz9om4). It tells of how the IRA administration kept the strike going when their demands had been broadly met, for no other reason than to advance the martyrdom- disgusting- those men didn't have to die.

The reality is that the republican vs loyalist struggle is no more romantic than 9/11. It's disgusting, brutal and fundamentally wrong. I used to go to school in Omagh, and returning to school after the bomb, to see young people who had been involved with scars, mental and physical, limbs missing etc, demonstrates that it's nothing other than mindless violence. There's no excuse.

As for St Pat's, I really enjoy the day, although abstractly, I don't want to celebrate it in NI- that's a throwback from living through the troubles, and not wanting to align myself with one side or the other. Ironically when you go to England, it's celebrated with much more gusto- and in the times I've been living there on the 17th, I've been irish dancing on Guinness celebrating my Irishdom with pride.

Anyway, I'm sorry to have rained on your parade, and I'm glad that you let your hair down and enjoyed the day, but just remember that there's not a single person (protestant or catholic or neither) that lived through the troubles who doesn't have a story to tell. I see St Patrick's day as a celebration of all things Irish, except mindless murder (which I am ashamed to say is an integral part of our past).

Maybe one day, we could meet up in Dublin for St Pat's- bringing the best of our traditional celebrations together. I did see the photos- your decorations are super impressive!

lv, catrine x

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