For more than 1,000 years, the Irish have observed St. Patrick’s Day as a religious holiday; traditionally, by attending church in the morning and celebrating in the afternoon with food and drink. But, as is often the case, a story of pirates, slavery, bravery, religion, politics and sainthood has turned into a day of parades, feasting and green beer. We should keep some historical context of this religious holiday and the passionate immigrants who kept their family traditions alive.
The disclaimer is, I am not Irish. Of course, the truth is, neither was St. Patrick. Born in Roman Brittany, sold into slavery at age 16 by pirates and brought to Ireland where he was forced to work as a shepherd, Patrick discovered his faith and found his calling. Upon his escape only a few years later, Patrick made his way back to his family determined to return to Ireland and bring Christianity to the pagans. But, I digress.
I was born and raised in Syracuse, NY and went to a high school on the city’s west side in a neighborhood that reveled in its Irish heritage and boasted the only traffic light in the country with the green on top of the light. Yep. The traffic light at the corner of Milton Avenue and Tompkins Street on Tipperary Hill is upside down. Green, yellow then red.
In the early part of the 1800’s, immigrants, many from County Tipperary, Ireland, played a large role in building the Erie Canal, and many settled in the neighborhood known as Tipperary Hill, close to the factories and salt mills that provided work for the Irish laborers. Local legend states that when traffic lights were installed in 1925, neighborhood Irish boys threw rocks at the red light to protest the color of British red dominating over the Irish green. Decades and many broken red lights later, the light’s colors were permanently reversed. It remains a great story of pride and tradition.
Between sips of green beer and shots of Irish whiskey this St. Patricks Day, let us remember the extraordinary men and women of Irish decent who made the voyage to this great country, and although were treated less than favorably as immigrants, contributed greatly to this young country and to her many Irish neighborhoods. Indeed, THAT is worth celebrating with a beer.