Music and laughter, food and frolic, we’ve plenty to celebrate Friday on St. Patrick’s Day. That includes the fact that the Irish are being celebrated at all. It provides hope that prejudice can be overcome, even if it takes a century or more.
I started my celebration on Monday with a plate loaded down with a fine Irish stew, and on the side, were green peas that remind me of spring, all washed down with green beer just to be fully in the spirit.
This was served up Monday at the Riverfront Community Center in Leavenworth, Kan. I dined on a break, as I earned supper by playing Irish and folk music with friends for those gathered. Primarily, our band followed the lead of wonderful fiddling by Tim Daniels of Platte City.
The Rotary Club of Leavenworth used the Irish supper as a fundraiser.
Being Irish is all fun now, and anyone can be so for a day or so. Once upon a time, it was not so much.
The British had a prejudice against the Irish that dated back to the Middle Ages. They brought that with them to America. Then came the mid-1800s and a potato famine that pushed hundreds of thousands of Irish to the United States. They were refugees from poverty and starvation. They were also Catholic in a nation dominated by the protestant faith.
The Irish, standing at the bottom of the economic and social ladder, grabbed jobs wherever they could get them.
All this stirred up powerful sentiments against these immigrants. Some states passed laws designed to limit growth of the Irish population. Caricatures of the Irish as drunken carousers and brawlers frequented media.
Those are stereotypes that first hurt the Irish, and although anti-Irish bias has faded, the stereotypes still haunt a bit.
The prejudice against the Irish did fade, to be replaced in the early 1900s by prejudice against Italian immigrants, Jews and people of Asian descent. Native Americans and African Americans have an extremely troubled history in America, and today some thrive while others still struggle.
Historians say Kansas City was built on the bluffs of the Missouri River’s south shore after the Civil War with labor and skills of Irish immigrants. You will find those with Irish roots in Platte County’s oldest cemeteries.
Perhaps the careful way that county historian W.M. Paxton wrote about Irishman Simon Barton on April 27, 1891, reflected his desire to ascribe more respect than what was provided during Paxton’s coming of age in the mid-1800s, when anti-Irish sentiment was highest.
“Mr. Barton was born in Ireland, April 11, 1819,” Paxton wrote in his Annals of Platte County. “He was a man of natural mind and some culture. He laid off the little village of Junction.”
We in our little dot in the middle of the big map evolve forward and regress backward along with the rest of America. Back and forth go opinions on issues like immigration, economic and social clashes — all while eruptions of change send shimmers through all aspects of life, such as the invention of the internet.
So much is so unsettled about America now.
But on Monday, Irish dancers high stepped with remarkable grace in Leavenworth to ancient fiddle tunes, distracting revelers from their Irish stew. Old friends said howdy to one another without thought of politics or religion of the other.
People smiled and enjoyed old cultural touchstones — ones once reviled.
Maybe we like St. Patrick’s Day, too, because it means spring is not far behind. Wearing green reminds us of all that grows. Summer returns. Life unfolds after winter sleep.
Good is stronger than evil and is the dominant survivor in the long run.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.