by Constance Daley
The American Reporter
St. Simons Island, Ga.
March 9, 2005
IT'S THE SAME OLD SHILLELAGH
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It was one of those conversations where someone is speaking to me directly but as I listen my mind is simultaneously saying wow, wonderful, then asking myself how does this slip by the Madelyn Murray O'Hare's of the country and the ACLU?
"And, Mom, Wendy continued, "we'll start out at Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, it's by ticket only, and Hillary will be there ... and ... ."
My daughter went on and on with her litany of dignitaries and still I wondered: how can it be? I know it's great. Her corporate connection puts her in the lead car directing the most famous parade in the world up Fifth Avenue in New York City, March 17, 2005.
But, isn't it curious? The Ten Commandments were forced out of a quiet little courthouse in the South by order of the Courts and yet there are no law suits petitioning to end 150,000 marchers saluting St. Patrick while grid locking the most important city in the world in order for millions to watch them parade by.
Oh, I'm not complaining, I assure you, long may the bagpipes play. In fact, I will say no more about possible repercussions by groups who rally against the dominant presence of Christianity in the Western world - especially since the dominant presence in this annual March festival would be the Irish and they started celebrating on the streets of New York in 1766. That's more than a decade before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
I suspect, if there are naysayers, they might not want to take on the Irish. They've heard their songs, they've heard their wit, they've heard them in debate, and, most of all, they've seen their dedication to a cause and devotion to their beliefs.
They've seen all that and they've also seen "attitude." Oh, yes. I first saw that in my own Irish home with five brothers, three sisters, and parents. We were getting through The Great Depression with the most humble of dinners and the most hilarious jokes. There was humor in everything. I thought it was just us until I was boosted onto the top of my father's car to see the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Everybody was happy. Everybody wore at least a touch of green.
The day was sunny and cold, very cold, and the marchers in kilts playing bagpipes had rosy cheeks and knobby knees but they winked with twinkling eyes as they went by. Every parochial school from the five boroughs of New York marched to their Fife & Drum Corps. We marched in place to keep warm and sang: "Eastside, Westside, all around the town. The kids sang 'Ring-around-Rosie, London bridge is falling down.' Boys and girls together, me and Mamie O'Rourke, tripped the light fantastic on the Sidewalks of New York."
That band would give 'way to one of the counties of Ireland, assembled here as in the "old sod" to play and sing what they learned as children.
Sure 'tis the same old shillelagh, Me Father brought from Ireland. And Divil a man was prouder than he, As He walked with it in his hand. He'd lead the band on Paddy's Day, And twirl it round his mitt. And Divil a bit we'd laugh at it, And old Dad would have a fit. Sure with the same old shillelagh, Me Father could lick a dozen men. As fast as they'd get up, begorrah He'd knock'em down again! And many's the time He used it on me, To make me understand; Sure, 'tis the same old shillelagh, Me Father brought from Ireland.
Every ethnic group coming to America brings its faith and traditions. The Irish were no exception. Along with their music, wit, joy, gift for gab - called among themselves, blarney - they came speaking the language of our forefathers. They may not have been in league with The Crown but they revered The King's English.
Since they could read, write, communicate easily, it wasn't long before they had a lock on politics. An Irishman may not have originated the political slogan "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" but those sound like words that would glibly slide off an Irishman's silver tongue.
On St. Patrick's Day the politicians marched then, and now. It doesn't matter whether the Mayor of New York is named LaGuardia, Lindsey, O'Dwyer, Barnes, Dinkins, Giulilani or Bloomberg. He marches. Proudly.
The parade was originated in 1766 by an Irish Recruit serving in the American colonies. The Military organized the parade every year following until after the War of 1812. When that tradition came to an end, fraternal organizations took over sponsorship. Groups used to meet at their own places and then march, merging at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. [The John F. Kennedy, Jr., Requiem Mass was heard at that church.]
Each of the marchers in the parades grew in number and the number of parades grew until they had to all form into one parade and have one Grand Marshall. This year, Denis P. Kelleher will be installed and lead the parade with the pride and high honor that goes with being chosen Grand Marshall.
Buried very deeply in the celebration is the religiosity that promoted it in the first place. In Ireland, this is a day of religious observance. Here, it is a Saint's Day and observed at St. Patrick's Cathedral, a church named in his honor and revered on this day. However, it is not a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church.
In Ireland, there will be no fingernails painted green, no shamrocks painted on what would be rosy cheeks. They will not paint the white center line green as we do on Fifth Avenue; they will not toss green dye into their rivers. Of course, as the Emerald Isle, they don't have to contrive to be green.
But, here. Ahhh, "it's a great day for the Irish. It's a great day for us all. The sidewalks of New York are filled with blarney; for sure, you'd think New York was old Killarney."
I'm really not worried about anyone proposing an end to this celebration as being against separation of church and state. This is an obvious example that there are some things where church and state come together. ( And, there are others where church and state must be separated for the good of us all, I'm with you on that.)
This is a day when the Irish are "out there." Never ones to "walk softly and carry a big stick," the Irish sing loudly and, although they do carry a stick it's known as a shillelagh, really meant for swaggering and twirling in delight.
But, if any man suggests stopping the St. Patrick's Day Parade, he'd feel the knobby side of the shillelagh, and, as fast as he'd get up, begorrah, he'd be knocked down again! - in a manner of speaking.