Friday, February 23, 2024

Opinion: St. Patrick’s Day is more than a drinking holiday. It’s a time to celebrate lasting peace.

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Williams teaches in the department of rhetoric and writing studies at San Diego State University and lives in San Diego County.

As a child in the 1980s, the first thing I learned about St. Patrick’s Day was that I needed to wear green to school to avoid getting pinched, and that corned beef and cabbage would be waiting in the slow cooker for the evening meal. As an adult, I learned that, to many Americans, St. Patrick’s Day is, first and foremost, a drinking holiday that also happens to celebrate an affiliation of widespread Irish heritage and appreciation.

According to recent census data, over 30 million Americans claim Irish heritage, almost six times the current population of the Republic of Ireland. We now celebrate the life of a fifth-century missionary with parades, green dye and a raised pint of Guinness to toast “sláinte” — which means to your health in both Scots and Irish Gaelic.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was not actually Irish himself, and his purported greatest legacy was driving the snakes out of Ireland — though current scientific understanding of the Irish climate and fossil record suggests Ireland never had snakes.

Historical understanding tends to evolve over time, and the way we celebrate national pride can be ill-informed or selective.

Here’s what history records: The most violent, formative and politically contentious movement that shaped modern Irish life for the last hundred years was the 1916 Irish Rebellion and ensuing war of independence. The resistance and uprising, the anthems and the stories of the brutal and bloody Irish struggle for self-governance fostered political negotiations that led to the eventual freeing of Irish citizens from British rule. That long struggle gave way to a symbolically inclusive and politically aspirational flag of the new republic.

The tricolor Irish flag with its green, white and orange was first flown publicly at meetings across the country 175 years ago and was formally recognized as the national flag until the 1937 Constitution. Imagine it tattered in 1916, a banner of rebellion flying from the occupied General Post Office that still today retains bullet holes in the columns and façade on O’Connell Street in Dublin. The green represents the Irish Catholic; orange represents William of Orange, the Dutch protestant who bested the Catholic king on Irish soil in 1690. And the field of white between the two other colors stands for the truce, the lasting peace between the majority and the minority.

Many Americans, including me, grapple with what it means to be American and how to celebrate national pride in light of historical atrocities and an ongoing pursuit for justice. It was my favorite Irish writer Oscar Wilde, famous for his wit and aphorisms, who is credited with saying, “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.”

Wilde died in 1900 without seeing a free Ireland or reading the eventual Article 2 of the Irish Constitution: “It is the firm will of the Irish nation, in harmony and friendship, to unite all the people who share the territory of the island of Ireland, in all the diversity of their identities and traditions.”

I’ve spent more of my life in Ireland than any other foreign country, regularly bringing groups of college students to live abroad and learn about Irish culture and history. The top attraction in all of Ireland is the Guinness Storehouse, where patrons receive a pint with the price of admission, brewed on site with Irish water. The Irish are serious about their beer and whiskey; it takes two draughts to correctly pour the famous stout — the first at a 45-degree angle with time to settle the foam, ultimately taking 119.53 seconds, according the Guinness Academy. Today, Guinness visitors can get a selfie image burned with laser precision into the head of their pint and post their #stoutie on social media.

I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in my lineage, that I know of, and on this St. Patrick’s Day, I won’t don green shamrocks or silly leprechaun garb, but I will remember the white between. We have 50 white stars and six white stripes on our Old Glory. What are the colors of the American flag? Every American can recite the colors in the same order “red, white and blue.”

As I raise my glass and think of Ireland, I can with my whole heart say “sláinte” — to the health of our unions, the diversity of all our identities, and our shared Irish goal of peace and civility between red and blue.

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