No Irish need apply.
That’s what many of my people encountered when they arrived in America. That was in an era when it was legal to discriminate against an ethnic group, or a gender or disability, for that matter, when seeking employees and renters.
Many of us came to America because of the Great Potato Famine (1845-1852), which was a natural disaster (potato blight, a fungus, killed the crops on which most of us depended for survival) aggravated by political aggression (England, which ruled Ireland at the time, did little/nothing to help its Irish subjects).
About a million of us died and another million left. Ireland’s population dropped by 25%, but those who remained renewed their sense of national identity and pride, fueling the nationalism that eventually led to Irish independence.
When we came to America, though, we were the wretched and unwanted refuse. We took awful jobs and lived in awful places because that was all that we could get.
150 years ago, no one would have pretended to be Irish, on St. Patrick’s Day or any other.
In two days, the annual mimicry and parade of leprechauns and shamrock shakes and cheesy brogues (that’s the name for an Irish accent – if you don’t know that then you shouldn’t do it) will reach its annual zenith and then, mercifully, end for another year.
How strange does it get?
In 1855, a German immigrant named Frederick Miller founded a brewery in Milwaukee. In 2002, South African Breweries bought Miller Brewing Company from Philip Morris. In 2007, SouthAfricanBreweriesMiller merged its U. S. operations with MolsonCoors.
There’s a current television ad for Miller 64, a crappy beer named, not for its flavor, but for its calorie count per bottle.
The ad, for this beer named after a German brewer and made by a South African/Canadian/American conglomerate, features what sounds like an Irish drinking song, in one of those cheesy brogues that you’ll hear everywhere this weekend.
The marketing staff at SouthAfricanBreweriesMillerCoors expect you to buy this beer because it sounds Irish, and we all know that the Irish drink beer, when they’re not catching leprechauns or something, maybe fighting, who knows?
This weekend, you can go ahead and put blue dye into your Miller 64. I promise that the beer won’t hurt the flavor of the dye.
While you’re drinking it, though, please give a thought to the inherently green Irish love of nature, and our embrace of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, and our stubborn determination to survive and thrive. We found a way.
Marvel at how we went from “No Irish need apply” to “Everyone’s Irish on St. Patty’s Day.”
Then find yourself a good, tasty, local beer, something in green packaging, and drink the beer and recycle the package (or the reverse, if it’s a Miller 64).