While St. Patrick’s Day comes around every year, it has been 20 years since my first one. Although at the time I did not have a clue what it was, I have since learned just how important my Irish heritage has been to me. I think anyone who shares the same background as me would no doubt agree.
The Irish in America have been a group who are unmatched by any other ethnicity that has set foot in this new world. This is not meant to express any supremacy over another ethnicity, because they have all contributed to the creation of this country. But the fact is that the Irish were very vital to the U.S. energy.
This could be understood by briefly reviewing Irish history. Coming out of Western Europe, the Irish were probably the only nationality that never colonized any other country. In fact, the Irish represented those who were oppressed in the region. British armies who invaded in the 17th century made sure that their neighbors to the west were treated with as much disrespect as the rest of their colonies.
Almost 200 years later, when the Irish were struck down by both famine and oppression, they set sail for America. It would be a choice greeted with hardships and success.
Arriving in both East Coast cities before branching out to the Midwest, the Catholic newcomers from the Emerald Isle were met with mixed reactions. Many of the feelings were harsh. Protestant natives of British descent were strongly against supporting such a group. Signs such as “Irish need not apply” were present in windows. This feeling was so strong that they were the one ethnic group sometimes treated worse than slaves.
But the Irish were not ones to let other peoples’ opinions put them down. They began investing in a country they soon hoped would accept them. This ranged from infrastructure, business, education, entertainment and politics. Half a century after the first wave of immigration, Americans realized the Irish were a people whose recognition would shine from sea to sea.
As the 20th century progressed, the Irish became the second-largest ethnic group behind the Germans. Their influence was very visible in many fields. The only gate that was unopened was the presidency.
But by 1960, Irish-American John F. Kennedy overcame this challenge with victory. Although his tenure was relatively short, his influence and accomplishments were some of the highest for a president. Twenty years later, another Irish American, Ronald Reagan (a Protestant but the son of an Irish Catholic father), was also elected president. Reagan also has grown to become warmly regarded as an important leader by many Americans.
These two presidencies demonstrate that even in the nation’s toughest job, the Irish have prevailed.
So next time you take a look at something genuinely American, there is a good chance that the Irish had something to do with it. Facts like this make me proud to be an Irish American.