God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world.
- Ed McMahon
In 1848, my Irish ancestor spent every day begging the captains of ships until, finally, one of them offered to let great-granddaddy sail to America if he would agree to work on the ship without pay. Great-grandfather's struggle to survive was only one chapter in a centuries-old exertion for the Irish, but a fight that molded a remarkable cultural character.
The Irish people were conquered, invaded, enslaved and exploited for centuries. Nevertheless, always and without fail, the Irish were able to re-surface, restructure and go forward. They evolved into a people who were determined to exercise individual freedom not just in spite of, but fueled by, tyranny.
That fortitude followed them across the vast ocean to the new land of America. What most did not anticipate was the fact that they would be greeted with clenched fists, rather than the open arms of brotherhood, by those who already occupied their Promised Land.
Although millions made it to this country, most found themselves living among neighbors who, while not openly rejecting them, did not make life much easier than their native Ireland. Most, at the time of my own ancestor's immigration, found that the only employment was in the most dangerous trades. Signs reading "Irish need not apply" were commonplace in every city of America. Peter Duffy recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "The current antipathy toward illegal immigrants from Mexico pales in comparison to the vicious, nativist sentiment targeting the Irish during the 1830s and 1840s."
From this bottomless chasm of discrimination, Irish-Americans fought their way to the crest of our political and industrial structures and wove an emerald path into the fabric of American history. They did so by becoming proficient forgers into new exciting territory.
From the beginning, individuals such as Daniel Boone, Henry Ford, John P. Holland (a submarine pioneer), and the more recent Eileen Collins (commander of the Space Shuttle) have proven Irish-Americans to be versatile and innovative citizens.
While the Irish-Americans were winning respect in this nation, their brethren in Ireland were also struggling and becoming successful. After centuries of organized, and failed, revolt against the oppressive Crown, a spontaneous but unified effort threw off the shackles of tyranny. Now known as the Easter Uprising of 1916, the revolt started as a "grassroots" effort to overthrow British rule. It quickly grew into a lightning-fast insurrection which, along with the subsequent Treaty, placed the Irish, for the first time, as rulers of their own destiny.
In this short history of Ireland and the Irish-American are lessons for modern America. No matter how hard life may become for us, we must follow the example of the Irish and keep up the good fight. Simply accepting our current condition is to leave future generations without hope. Secondly, we must recognize that a creature not evolving is a creature dying, whether we are talking about biological entities, political systems or the economy.
Margaret Meade expressed the final, and most important, lesson many years ago: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Utilized today, these might overthrow our current economic crisis and the unbridled government spending offered as the only solution for it.
While millions lose jobs and the economy sinks into oblivion, the impetuous "stimulus" package only creates more debt to burden taxpayers with more than 200 new social programs. The "Omnibus Package" is not only self-serving, it best serves no one but politicians preparing for their next election.
Everyone should "get your Irish up," now more than ever. Every citizen of America (Irish or not) should have eyes flashing defiance against defeat. We should be marching rebelliously forward against recession, governmental takeover of business and restriction on our constitutional rights. However, let us remember that the pen is mightier than the sword.
During the next few days, get your keyboard warmed up and your telephone line clear. Fill your glass with green beer if you will, but fill your representatives' mailboxes and voicemail systems until they are overflowing. Moreover, make it abundantly clear that we still reserve the constitutional right to remove from office those who ignore the wishes of the people who elected them.
This year, let us not just be satisfied with shouting "Happy St. Patrick's Day" and wearing green together. This year, let us form our own Sinn Fein (We Ourselves) movement, and shout to our brethren occupying space in Washington, D.C., "No, you will not; or we, the people, will."
Erin Go Bragh!
Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.