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St. Patrick’s Day: When Cultural Appropriation and Oppression Are Excused

“Oh, Paddy dear and did you hear the news that's goin' round?

The shamrock is by law forbid to grow on Irish ground

Saint Patrick's Day no more we'll keep his colours can't be seen

For they're hangin' men and women for the wearin' of the green”

As St. Patrick's Day approaches, the lyrics to "The Wearing of The Green" and so many other moving refrains penned by Irish poets and lyricists have been swirling in my head.

So too creeps the dread of the same frustrating argument that I find myself in each time this holiday comes around. That argument is one that I admittedly bring upon myself in pointing out the hypocrisy of those who decry cultural appropriation on other holidays such as Halloween or Cinco de Mayo but are more than happy to participate in St. Patrick's Day themselves.

You see, it's "racist " to dress as a Native American on Halloween if you're white. It's also "racist " to throw on a sombrero and down Coronas if you're white. According to the groups of people who oppose this sort of behavior, those outside of the ethnic groups whose cultures are being appropriated don't understand the cultural staples they're "appropriating." They’ll argue that a white person doesn't understand the significance of a headdress and lecture them on how “Cinco de Mayo isn't just an excuse to get wasted while scarfing down discounted tacos at your favorite Mexican restaurant.

However, these same complaintive groups of people seemingly have no issue with St. Patrick's Day being treated the same way by those who don't have Irish heritage. These complaintive groups don't care that these people are celebrating the Irish culture by wearing fake red beards, gigantic green "leprechaun" hats, and shamrocks while downing Guinness. No words of condemnation will be uttered from their mouths on how non-Irish groups don't understand the significance of the color green, the shamrock, or that they're using the holiday as an excuse to get wasted.

I guess that many people, including many Americans of Irish heritage, aren't aware that the color green and the shamrock are more than just things you see on a box of Lucky Charms. The problem is that most of the same people upset over the "appropriation " of other holidays don't care. I doubt it has ever crossed their minds to educate themselves on the significance behind the holiday, the symbols associated with it, or the Irish's history. Why is that?

The answer is simple: Irish and Irish-Americans are white.

I hear it all the time. "White people cannot experience oppression; white people have never been oppressed."

While this could not be more than an ignorant statement, it also comes from a place of not wanting a narrative to be disrupted. In this instance, that narrative is that white Americans "benefit " from white supremacy while minorities suffer from it still to this day. White Americans have always had it good, while minorities have always suffered.

Such a nonsensical argument can easily be disproven by studying a wide array of historical occurrences. The Irish are an especially relevant group to this discussion, having a grim history in Ireland and America.

To fully detail the horrors that this group of people has faced for centuries would take up a novel's worth of pages, perhaps even a series. I can't squeeze all of that history into a single article, but I will do my best to give an overview as I work my way through this piece.

Ireland is no stranger to oppression. After multiple Viking raids against the island in the eighth century ( it was the Vikings who founded Dublin), Ireland then faced the Norman Invasion. This marked the beginning of the troubles they would meet at the hands of the English Crown.

Multiple wars and rebellions would follow. In the sixteenth century, the plantation system was also implemented by the Crown, resulting in Irish families having their land confiscated so that English and Scottish settlers could colonize the area. The English believed that this would help "civilize" the Irish, who they saw as savages.

By 1601, the Gaelic system was defeated at the Battle of Kinsale, and Ireland was forcibly added to the British Empire. This event also furthered the growing division between the native Catholics and colonizing Protestants.

During this religious dispute, the Penal Laws were introduced to force Irish Catholics to shed themselves of their Catholicism and join the Church of Ireland.

The Gaelic language was banned.

Catholic schools and priests were also not permitted. Furthermore, Catholics were stripped of many civil rights, including entering any profession, studying medicine, studying law, joining the military, owning a horse worth more than five pounds, owning weapons, speaking Gaelic, and reading Gaelic, or playing Gaelic music.

The objective was to anglicize the Irish, completely stripping them of their own culture and leaving them little choice but to assimilate into British culture. Many Irish people dropped the O', Mac, of Fitz prefixes from their names to avoid prejudice.

The Penal Laws additionally led to Catholics losing their land. Many were left in abject poverty or chose to immigrate out of Ireland. The tensions between Catholics and Protestants continued to rise, leading to more bloodshed. However, things would only get worse for the Irish.

In 1798, the Irish attempted to rebel against the oppressive British rule, inspired by the American and French Revolutions. Unfortunately, this attempt was unsuccessful. Throughout the conflict, the British carried out numerous atrocities against the Irish. Both rebels and civilians alike were hanged, burned at stake, or raped. In one instance in Wexford, men, women, and children were burned alive in a barn, while in another instance, they were piked to death on a bridge.

The nationalist rebels wore the color green.

Green held cultural significance in that it’s the color of the shamrock. It‘s said that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. Because of this connection, the green shamrock became a symbol of Ireland.

The British quickly realized that green was a growing symbol of nationalism for the Irish. They then banned the Irish from wearing the color, putting warnings in newspapers that those who violated this restriction could face imprisonment, transportation, the rope or the bayonet, and [that women would be] expose[d] to the brutal insults of the soldiery. This applied to the wearing of shamrocks as well.

As if Ireland was not facing enough turmoil by this point, another tragedy began to take hold of Erin's Isle. This time, it came from the land itself.

In 1845, Ireland's main crop, the potato, was struck with a fungus that caused it to rot. For the next seven years, more than half of each year's crop was destroyed. Starvation was so severe that an estimated one million people perished, while another two million fled the country to survive. By the end of this famine, Ireland's population was cut in half.

This tragedy was not as heartbreaking to the Crown as it is to most people who are aware of its disturbing details. The Penal Laws had finally been lifted about fifteen years before the Great Hunger's onset, but that didn’t mean that the British Empire's oppressive grip had been.

While the Irish starved to death in droves, the British Empire continued to increase the export of other foods, mainly to themselves. In 1847, the worst year of the famine- peas, beans, rabbits, fish, oats, and honey were still being transported out of Ireland. To dissuade any starving Irish civilians from attempting to swipe any of this food, the carts and wagons were often guarded by armed soldiers.

If you're reading this and thinking that the British Crown could not have acted more maliciously, you would be incorrect. Amidst the nightmarish suffering that the Irish were facing as famine reduced them to bones and struck down their loved ones, the Crown decided that it would be a great time to double-down their efforts to erase Irish identity.

They carried out this effort through "souperism." Under this practice, starving Irish Catholics could receive food at schools set up by Bible societies-but only if they agreed to convert. Thus, many Irish Catholics felt that they had to choose between food and their faith.

Additionally, mass land confiscation took place during this time. The Gregory Clause was introduced in 1847, stating that only tenants with less than a quarter of an acre of land were eligible for government assistance amidst the famine. Others could reach eligibility by surrendering their land to the landowner. Tenants who chose to take this route wound up homeless, while many others who attempted to remain on the land after surrendering it were forced out.

Because of the English Poor Law, which required landlords to be held responsible for caring for their most impoverished tenants, there was a strong desire for them to get rid of those tenants who could no longer pay their rents. They either paid their fare onto "coffin ships" or merely kicked them off the land. The tenants' dwellings were then torn down to prevent them from trying to stay there.

As a result, the starving and now homeless Irish were left with few choices but to go to workhouses or piece together makeshift shelters in the outdoors. Although this practice caused the British government to receive backlash, they denied that such actions were unjust or criminal.

Many other Irish chose to take the immigration route. Those who could afford to or who had their way paid by their former landlords left their homeland for England and America.

However, many of them quickly discovered that their lives improved little upon arrival. Hopes and dreams of a brighter future were snuffed out by extreme prejudice in both nations. To the English and many Americans, the Irish were viewed as a lesser race of barbaric people, much like how Africans and Native Americans were also seen during that time.

Political cartoons reflected this sentiment, depicting Irish immigrants as ape-like brutes.

These cartoons attempted to "otherize" the Irish so that prejudice against them could be justified. Those who survived the treacherous journey across the Atlantic in "coffin ships," named due to the staggering number of people who died on them, found that English and American prejudice against them was so strong that the only jobs available to them were the least desirable.

While many Irish women worked as servants, many Irish men were forced to work in dangerous and low-paying jobs, such as coal mining, canal, and railroad building. This treatment led to the development of the first mob in America. Long before the Italian mafia came around, dissatisfied Irish immigrants banded together in ruthless mobs to obtain power and wealth.

A new political party called the Know-Nothing Party was formed to keep the Irish out of America; what began as a secret society in the mid-1850s turned into a nation-wide movement against the Irish, immigration, and Catholics. Thankfully, it only lasted until 1860.

It wasn't until the Civil War, when many Irish immigrants were hastily recruited on both sides that Irish-Americans began to be seen as equal. Furthermore, many also joined law enforcement and fire brigades, which helped them work their way up in society.

Though Ireland has unfortunately remained marked with violent conflict, in America, the struggles of the Irish seem long forgotten; this is made evident on St. Patrick's Day. Everyone wants to claim Irish heritage and put on their brightest green for a night out at the nearest pub.

And guess what?

Even though there are many people who partake in the celebration of St. Patrick's Day that bear little to no Irish heritage at all, you won't hear any objections from those who do when symbols of their culture and heritage are being "appropriated." Those who so frequently condemn the cultural appropriation of other ethnic groups will remain silent.

Hopefully, this article has taught you a thing or two about St. Patrick's Day and perhaps you will see all the green shirts and shamrock decorations as more than just shirts and decorations. Perhaps, too, some of this information will stick with you and come to mind the next time you witness someone suggest that "white people have never been oppressed " or have "no culture " to be appropriated.

You won't hear demands for reparations from the Irish or those who condemn cultural appropriation. You won't hear arguments that Irish-Americans are still oppressed all these years later.

I could never do justice to the Irish people's long and somber history in only a few pages. Still, I feel a great sense of pride in saying that many of my ancestors were a part of that determined group of people who pushed through so many struggles. I don't see it as a cause for pity, resentment, or the expectation that I'm owed something, but rather as a source of strength.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Éire go Brách agus sláinte!

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About the Author:

Erin Fitzgerald Adair is a political commentator known as @Always.Right on Instagram. She attended college for Political Science and History, formerly hosted a weekly podcast, and recently worked on a congressional campaign. Erin is a “Cav Kid” from Georgia who now splits her time between there and Florida. She is passionate about advocating for gun rights, free speech, and our constitutional liberties while speaking out against abortion, censorship, and cultural marxism.

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