I traveled much when I first came to this country. It was easy, just deliver a car to San Francisco and you could hit the road, be your own Jack Kerouac.
The vastness and potential of the country was awe-inspiring – the interstate highways, the industriousness of the people, the sense of American can-do!
I learned even more about the US with Black 47 for I came to know and appreciate Irish-America in a way that few native-born Irish ever do. I learned first hand the difference between a person born on Tipperary Hill in Syracuse and one reared on Chicago’s South Side, while it didn’t take long to become acquainted with the huge cultural divide between Dorchester and Geary Street in San Francisco.
Music, however, bonded all these communities: Irish-Americans everywhere raised their fists to “James Connolly” and jigged with abandon to “Funky Ceili.”
For the culture is strong – you can almost touch it at the various festivals and the Irish centers that dot the country. It’s a rare city now where you can’t take lessons in the Irish language, not to mention that you can get a decent pint at a traditional music seisiún just about everywhere.
The Irish embassy and consulates are playing a major role in reaching out to the Diaspora and helping foster the resurgence of Irish-American cultural pride. This is in stark contrast to some decades back when there was considerable friction between Irish diplomats and Republican activists; a blinkered patronization set the tone for any social interaction. Where once Irish embassy and consulate officials preferred the lace-curtain certainties of DC and NYC, now they travel nationwide to festivals and cultural events, as willing to listen as to lecture.
And still I feel that a certain potential is unrealized – and I’m not talking about investment in Ireland or boosting tourism – no rather a meeting of minds, or even more importantly perhaps, a union of hearts between the home country and the Diaspora.
One of the keys to such a reunion is for Irish natives to realize that Irish-America is nuanced and not just some generic cash machine to be exploited around St. Patrick’s Day. Irish-Americans have a deep interest in Ireland that goes beyond kissing the limpid Blarney Stone; many are au courant with modern Irish music, theatre and literature and are often more at home on the Falls Road than your average punter from Waterford or Walkinstown.
Irish-America is often seen to be rigid and static. Nothing could be further from the truth. The social changes of the last few years have been startling – legalized gay marriage is sweeping the states along with a general forbearance, if not total, acceptance of this alternate life-style. But then there’s always been a latent Libertarian streak in American culture that encourages people to be what they are.
How odd then that cosmopolitan New York City should provide the one major issue with which Irish-Americans can be whipped every year.
Though there was initial relief on both sides of the Atlantic when the LGBT group from NBC was invited to march in the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day parade, it has since come to be seen for what it is – a short-term effort to stop the hemorrhaging of sponsorship.
New Yorkers deserve better. We live in the most inclusive and international city in the world and we don’t shirk from big gestures.
We can argue ‘til the cows come home about Catholic doctrine and who should or shouldn’t march, but it’s time to put all that behind us and use plain and unvarnished logic.
If an American LGBT organization can be invited to march – then why can’t an Irish group? The streets will not cave in. In fact our LGBT brothers and sisters will bring new life, joy and verve to a parade that has undergone many changes since 1762 when Irish soldiers in the British Army began the tradition.
We’re a big people, we handled Know-Nothings and the tragedy of 9/11; we can take cultural change in our stride, and in a couple of years both the Irish in Ireland and Irish-America will look back and wonder what the fuss was all about.