There is an old Irish legend that the emerald island is a piece of Heaven that broke off and floated to earth. Another little piece of Heaven came to earth on St. Patrick's Day, 1991, in the form of my daughter. And, I like to think, there are some traces of my Irish ancestry that have evidenced themselves in Charli's character.
On occasion, she dynamically displays her "Irish." Usually, the rebellious nature comes out when told that she must go to bed, or can't watch a favorite television show. Her eyes at those moments flash with a defiance that would make Scarlett O'Hara proud. And, like any daughter of Erin, under the most adverse conditions my Charli can see only sunshine. Friends, teachers and relatives agree that her most endearing quality is the ability to laugh, smile and find happiness wherever she is and under whatever circumstances. She comes about her "Irish," as my father would say, honestly.
I became enthralled with my Irish heritage at a very early stage of life when my father recounted stories his mother had told of Ireland and its troubles. By the age of 16, Wolf Tone, Kevin Barry and Michael Collins would roll off my tongue as easily as Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and John Lennon. In speeches by Charles Parnell about "Home Rule," the belief that Ireland should not be ruled by a distant and encumbered Parliament, I saw fragments of Southern belief in "States' Rights."
And, more recently, I recall the Encumbered Estates Act of 1849, which allowed British Landlords to clear estates of tenant farmers in order to create large cattle-grazing farms "for the prosperity of the common good." Most Americans, I think, will recognize that the Act has the look, and reeks with the odor of, the most recent evolvement of our own "Eminent Domain."
An Irishman holds nothing more dearly than that single manifestation of individual freedom - the ownership of property without intrusion by a centralized government. And, despite all odds, the Irish throughout history have fought for it while maintaining their hearty love of the miracle we call life.
Despite centuries of oppression, the Irish people have taken whatever providence handed to them and made it work. When they came to this country, they came prepared to carve a new nation out of the wilderness.
Their love of freedom and rebellious nature gave them a map to follow into that political wilderness. Their mirthful spirit gave them the vigor to persevere all obstacles until they succeeded. And, through it all, they not only immersed themselves into the evolving American culture, they interweaved with it, and made it their own.
Indeed, the Irish-American made our culture so much a part of his own that the tapestry of the American narrative is woven throughout with Green threads. To quote President George W. Bush in his 2001 St. Patrick's Day Declaration, Irish immigrants to this country "have prevailed to play vital roles in every chapter of our country's history. Nine of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Irish origin, and 19 Presidents of the United States have proudly claimed Irish heritage"
But, with respect to our president, contributions do not end there. Once the Declaration of Independence was signed, Irishmen stepped forward to serve and included a third of Colonial army officers, 202 Irish-born recipients of the Medal of Honor, Commodore John Barry ("Father of the American Navy"), and Gen. Douglas McArthur.
In times of peace, the Irish-American has made boundless contributions to this country, including industrialists Henry Ford and J.P. Getty and Justices William J. Brennan and Sandra Day O'Connor.
Finally, the galaxy of American entertainment sparkles with emerald stars beginning with All-American composers Stephen Foster and George M. Cohan, and continuing with the stage presence of Elvis Presley (Scotch-Irish), Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan to only name a few. For Star Trek fans, let's add James Doohan to that list. And, although not American, my wife's hero Paul McCartney has had tremendous influence on our music industry.
Irish immigrants to this country have been the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is not only Irish; they are American. Therefore, join us on this St. Patrick's Day to celebrate the green tint of American culture. Failing to do so not only denies you a lot of fun; it is, in light of our history, almost an un-American activity.
Don't beam me up, Scotty - there are a lot of Irish here.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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