Each year, Ireland draws millions of Irish-Americans to its shores. Most of them coming in search of their ancestral heritage. They travel the length and breadth of the country on the look out for castles, old pubs or even the odd leprechaun (although sightings of the latter are known to be rare). Despite their undoubted enthusiasm for everything Irish, some of the natives have been known to question the authenticity of their motives. Where does their fascination truly come from? Is it simply based on a romanticised view of Ireland, cultivated in Hollywood movies like 'The Quiet Man' or 'Far and away'. Or, Is there more to it? I would argue that Irish-Americans love for our country comes from a far more meaningful place. The Irish-American community in the U.S. is ferociously passionate about its heritage. That passion remains as strong as ever despite many of its members being three and four generations removed. The spirit of their ancestors, who first arrived on American shores with less than nothing has endured. The men and women who journeyed into the unknown and rose up from the bottom rung of the social ladder to become a thriving part of modern America. The city of Boston, where over 20% of its population claim Irish heritage is a perfect example of how the Irish community has developed and diversified. Boston is the original Irish-American town, built on hard-work and Catholic values. A place where Irish culture remains to the forefront of its society.
The Irish in America was the original 'rags to riches' fairy tale. Who better to play the staring role then John F. Kennedy. J.F.K was a proud Catholic of Irish descent who rose up through the ranks of U.S. politics to take his seat in the White House. His anointment completed the cycle. No longer was the Irish-American expected to be ashamed of their heritage. Overnight, being Irish in America became a badge of honour. Kennedy was the first Irish-American president (of which there have been 22 I might add) to fully embrace his Irish heritage and use it to drive himself into the political spotlight. His iconic rise to the oval office freed the Irish-American population from the hardship endured by their Fathers and Grandfathers. It was a new beginning, a new dawn. With the chorus of 'Danny Boy' ringing out across the Presidential lawn, the Irish-American had truly arrived to a point of absolute importance. Kennedy was a maverick, a beacon of hope for Irish-Americans and even the natives.
Since the Kennedy era, almost all U.S. Presidents have made the journey across the Atlantic to visit Ireland's shores. At this stage, it must be part of the job description. Despite the frequency of the Presidential arrivals, the excitement they generate remains enormous. The visit usually lasts a couple of days, and the agenda is always the same. Take in a castle or two, drink a few slugs from a pint of Guinness which the 'Secret Service' have rigorously tested for quality purposes and it's job done. The wheels are up on 'Air-Force 1' before the glass is even washed. Despite the insignificance of the actual visits, they continue to carry a glamour which only a visit by an American President can generate. Part of me wants to believe that each of those Presidents were truly interested in finding their ancestral roots. However, I'm sure that the lure of up to 40 million Irish-American votes had something to do with their journey. A visit to Ireland is bound to reflect favourably amongst Irish-American community and may even put a gloss over any political differences. "He's been to Ireland, he can't be that bad". President Obama for one, benefited hugely from his trip to Ireland in 2011. The visit allowed him make some valuable headlines in Catholic newspapers back in the U.S and also made a point of his Irish roots. Just in time for the election too, what a coincidence! A modern day J.F.K?, maybe not, but at least he enjoyed his Guinness!
For centuries, the Irish have emigrated to countries all across the world but few places have retained our unique values as much as America. The Irish-American community continues to thrive despite the passing generations. St Patrick's day is celebrated with more fervour in America than anywhere else in the world, including Ireland itself! Cities right across the country are brought to a standstill, as Irish culture takes centre stage for the masses. I was lucky enough to attend the St Patrick's day parade in New York on one occasion. The city was awash with colour, even the Hudson ran green! This incredible celebration of everything Irish just unfolded before my eyes. Standing there, on Fifth Avenue, and seeing how our tiny country could influence the greatest city in the world brought me nothing but pride. It was truly amazing to be part of the atmosphere in the city that day, and an experience I'll never forget. More than anything, it showed me the true respect for Irish culture amongst Irish-Americans. They truly understand what it means to be Irish. It's not just a gimmick formed from a romantic image of our green fields and thatched roof cottages. It's way more than that.
In many ways, 'the Irish-American' is more Irish than the Irish themselves. Their unique sense of pride brought about by their connection to the community has endured through countless generations. There remains a strong affinity to the reputation acquired by the original generation who made the journey across the Atlantic. A people who valued hard work and faith above all else. Those values remain prevalent to this very day and will continue to do so. Of course, Irish-Americans who visit us each summer also enjoy the romantic element of Ireland. The leprechauns, Guinness and fairy stories to mention but a few of their favourites. But, whats wrong with that? For one, it keeps half of the bluffers in the country in a job each summer. There is no doubt, the spirit of the Irish in America goes on. A most definite fact, and certainly not fiction...
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