On Monday, I saw on the Circle Tap Facebook page a St. Patrick’s Day shirt emblazoned with a meter-like image depicting several stages of losing sobriety. The maximum point being “Irish.” I submitted some remarks in protest and offered factual information on the page but later decided that this matter called for a response beyond the scope of a social network.
My first thought at seeing the shirt was of my immediate family and my ancestors. How could someone — I presume ignorant of the bitter story of the Irish being exiled from their homes and homeland, hungry and diseased — once again use a wicked, stunningly incorrect stereotype to make money?
I would be equally offended at any misrepresentation of other ethnic groups.
Some people of Irish ancestry might not know much about their ancestors and benignly accept the caricatures. If more people knew that a great-great-grandparent was stuffed into an over-loaded ship in the stench of the hold, with no sanitary facilities and only the food he or she brought, they might take a different view of simplistic, cruel depictions spread over T-shirts.
When those people left Ireland, their families held wakes, knowing they never would see them again.
Every time, I drive through downtown Davenport, I think of my Garvey and Marinan ancestors, immigrants from from County Clare. They were amongst the many Irish who built the first bridge across the Mississippi River and the trestle that runs along 5th Street, then westward across Iowa. It was difficult, dangerous, physical labor. At the ceremonies celebrating the arrival of the railroad in Rock Island, J. N. Danforth Jr., editor of The Rock Island Republican, toasted “... to the Irish, who dig our canals and build our railroads ...”
I think of my great-great-grandfather, Michael Dooley from County Laois, who came to Illinois where he labored well into his years in a plow factory, then lived to see his son become a production foreman and city councilman.
I think of my great-great-grand-uncle, Bernard Carolan from County Meath, who served four years in the Civil War and was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness.
I think of my great-great-grandmother, Julia Carolan from County Meath, who survived the Atlantic crossing that lasted an incredible 14 weeks. (The navigator was English.) Michael Daily, her husband from Galway, died of tuberculosis at a young age, leaving her with four children, one of whom died a few years later.
Those people were not buzzed, drunk or blitzed. They were sober Irish.
The perseverance and sacrifices of our ancestors down to our parents gave us the world we live in today. Their blood courses our bodies.
Parades, other Irish events and the new memorial to Irish immigrants in Davenport are expressions of deep appreciation to our ancestors. How individuals commemorate their past is their own business. But when an intentional lie is mass produced in whole cloth it impels people to speak out.
I am defending my ancestors and will give no quarter. Wouldn’t anyone of us do the same?
The regimental motto of the Irish Brigade of Civil War fame is “Gentle when stroked, fierce when provoked”; words that apply as much today as they did 150 years ago.