As I write this, the Chicago River is already green, though St. Patrick’s Day is still a few days away. As for D.C.’s own ShamrockFest, it seems to be taking a break this year. You can, however, still get a Shamrock Shake at McDonald’s.
America celebrates the heck out of this Irish holiday.
While half my genetic heritage is Irish, it was never a prominent part of my identity. The apostrophized “O” in my last name is fun, but it was added at some point after my potato-famine-fleeing ancestors landed in New York. Apparently, it was meant to add a dash of panache. By whom? When? I’ve no idea. But a trip to County Mayo, which we’ve been told for generations is our particular familial plot of Ireland, confirmed that this is some American bastardization.
That trip was for my brother’s 60th birthday. It was actually my second trip to Ireland, as the family has taken Irish roots to heart. The first was a road trip when I was seven. My Army dad was stationed in Paris and insisted we make a St. Patrick’s Day journey via overnight car ferry. We even visited St. Patrick’s grave. Mostly I recall a sandbag bunker on the border with Northern Ireland, and ubiquitous graffiti reading, “Brits Out, Peace In.” Those were troubled times in the mid 1970s.
Despite my early exposure, I always clung more tightly to my maternal Swiss family tree. We never knew anyone in Ireland, but we still have plenty of family in Switzerland. And a lifetime of Irish Catholicism and an annual drunken holiday didn’t do much to endear me. Switzerland had Alps, sophisticated brands, and Toblerone.
I was so misguided.
I still think Switzerland is gorgeous and grand, but you’ve got to reckon with a history that includes laundering the spoils of Nazi genocide, turning away Jews fleeing that genocide, and a current degree of documented racism and xenophobia that anyone should find offensive. And you can apparently still buy my beloved — though now boycotted by me — Toblerone chocolate bars in war-criminal Russia.
Ireland, meanwhile, has become one of the world’s most socially sophisticated countries. Particularly when looked at through a queer lens.
Certainly, literary icon and Irishman Oscar Wilde leaps to mind when we ponder what’s emerald green and gay. But that’s the wee tip of the potato.
Today, Ireland claims a gay head of government. Taoiseach (aka prime minister) Leo Varadkar. He’s cute as a button and certainly stands out as a person of color in this painfully white country. I say painfully white, as my Florida-raised, Irish skin has suffered sunburns to the point of cracking open. So painfully white.
For a country steeped in Catholicism — Thanks, St. Patrick! — it’s heroic how the people of Ireland have, in recent years, managed to vanquish the Vatican to a degree that has secured them both abortion rights and marriage equality. Ireland should also take credit for producing the sweetest marriage-equality ad the world has ever known. Seriously, it’s a campaign that leaves me all choked up.
The beautiful Irish effort that truly brings a tender tear to my eye, however, was the open letter delivered by “Feminist Ire,” signed by several national Irish organizations and hundreds of individuals. This collective was addressing the UK-based “We Need To Talk” speaking tour heading to Dublin in 2018, as reported by Ireland’s GCN (Gay Community News) under the headline “Ireland Says No to TERFs.”
If, by some chance, you are unfamiliar with the acronym, it stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. And this particular band of TERFs was taking issue with the proposed Gender Recognition Act, an enhancement of 2015 Irish law that already allowed for gender self-identification.
“It would enable trans people to be formally recognised in their preferred gender through self-determination — removing all medical criteria from the legal recognition process,” GCN explained. “This means there would be no requirement for a medical assessment for applicants over the age of 18.”
Feminist Ire’s defense of their Irish trans siblings in the face of the We Need To Talk tour is inspiring.
“We can see from your social media posts about your tour and its contents, that your opposition to the GRA is based on the idea that feminist organising and women’s rights will somehow be harmed through trans inclusivity and organising with our trans sisters,” the letter reads.
“We know this is not true. We, the signatories of this letter, organise hand in hand with our trans sisters. Together, cis and trans, we are Irish feminism. Trans women are our sisters; their struggles are ours, our struggles theirs. They were our sisters before any state-issued certification said so and will always be no matter what any legislation says, either now or in the future….
“We have had enough of colonialism in Ireland without needing more of it from you.”
Take that, J.K. Rowling. Ooof.
That mention of colonialism hints at Ireland’s aforementioned conflict, today mostly cooled. This St. Patrick’s Day, think of it as a warning for us in America. We could easily end up in a similar situation.
Around the time I was born, the left had militants like the peculiar Symbionese Liberation Army. Today, however, right-wing militants are calling for a race war by murdering Black churchgoers and Jews in synagogue. They’ve stormed the Capitol in an effort to overturn the democratic will of the majority.
These are dangerous times, and Ireland serves as an apt warning of what our country could look like if we can’t get this bigoted genie back in its bottle. Our second civil war won’t be soldiers on the battlefield, but paramilitary punks bombing and shooting civilians to a far greater degree.
This St. Patrick’s Day, please celebrate Ireland for the magically auspicious country that it is, leading the way to the future, warning us with its past. Sláinte!
Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at www.LifeInFlights.com.
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