It’s that time of year again, when tens of thousands – or even millions – of Americans get to pretend that they are Irish because one of their great-great grandparents may have come from somewhere in County Cork. That being said, credit goes to the real Irish for promoting the most successful national marketing campaign in history: St. Patrick’s Day. The patron saint of Ireland himself was not even Irish – or officially a saint. He first set foot in Ireland as a captive, having been kidnapped from Britain by Irish raiders. What is the state of Ireland today, though? It remains a divided country, but how are the two Irish entities faring? Is it a nation worthy of celebrating by chewing one’s way through 12 pints of Guinness, or are the annual March 17 festivities nothing more than a vapid exercise in commercialism?
As an ironic aside, there was a time when all the pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick’s Day.
A St Patrick’s Day History Lesson
When most Americans speak of Ireland, they are referring to the 32 counties that make up the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland – or Ulster – comprises six counties in the northeastern corner of this relatively small land mass that is about the size of Indiana. Northern Ireland is still under the control of the United Kingdom. Often, Americans who claim Irish heritage refer to themselves as Scotch-Irish without fully appreciating what that means. In reality, the so-called Scotch Irish were mostly Scottish (and some northern English) protestants who were encouraged – and incentivized – to settle the six counties from as early as the 1500s through to the mid-1600s. In the UK they are called Ulster Scots, and many of them emigrated to America during the reign of Charles I, who was king of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 until Parliament had him executed in 1649.
Charles I attempted to bring – or rather, force – the mainly Presbyterian Ulster Scots into the Church of England. They fled to the New World to escape that religious persecution. Today, more than 9% of the population of the United States claim Scotch-Irish descent.
Northern Ireland has a blood-soaked history of animosity between Catholics and Protestants. The former wanted – and continue to demand – independence from the UK and to become a part of the Irish Republic. Politically, they are known as Irish Nationalists. On the other hand, the Loyalist Protestants – or Unionists – want to remain under British rule. Both sides spawned several paramilitary factions that fought it out on the streets of Northern Ireland’s largest cities and towns, particularly in Belfast and Londonderry. Civilians were frequently targeted, along with British troops deployed to support law enforcement operations. Over 3,000 people were killed during “The Troubles,” as the years of sectarian violence and terrorism were known.
Today there is a lot less bloodshed, but the two sides are still locked in a political stalemate. Brexit has sparked additional tension in the six counties, though Britain recently struck a deal with the European Union to ensure that trade between the Republic of Ireland, which is still an EU member-state, and Northern Ireland is not disturbed by Britain’s exit from the EU. However, the deal is yet to be approved by the British parliament. The Unionists oppose the agreement because they believe it will blur the lines, so to speak, between Ulster and the Irish Republic.
Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland is all-in with the EU’s left-leaning agenda of tackling “climate change,” welcoming immigrants, and generally pursuing a “woke” agenda, including an increase in pushing “transgender rights.”
As things stand, the British government accepts a future reuniting of the two Irelands if and when the majority of people in both Northern Ireland and the Republic vote for it. Though it seems ultimately inevitable, predicting a timeframe would be foolish. One thing is certain, though; the Ireland of today is a place few, if any, of those who claim Irish ancestry, would recognize. So, is it now clear why St. Patrick’s Day is such a big deal? No, of course it is not. There is no answer to that question. Genius marketing, though.
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