I do not call it St. Patricks Day as there are no such thing as Saints. I call it an Irish day. When the christian ideas come to dominate in Ireland they crushed the much more democratic society which was based on the Brehon laws. Women had much more rights under these laws. Christianity imposed the male dictatorship of the Catholic church. It used this to grow fat and rich and also to try and reimpose its rule in England and Scotland and Wales. The last few years have shown the disaster Catholicism has been for Ireland. The disaster of child abuse and the economic collapse of the capitalist system which the Catholic church ferociously propped up. If there ever was a Patrick and he converted the Irish he was a catastrophe.
So what does somebody like myself do on this day, an atheist, a socialist, an Irish emigrant in Chicago, and somebody who misses my home land so much that there are times driving home after work that I howl in anguish. I cannot go to the Irish American societies with their nonsense of dying the river green and dressing as leprechauns and praying to priests. I cannot go for another reason. The Irish events are in the main parades and gatherings which spout right wing ideas. The Irish American organizations are dominated by right wing business people. They are trying to claw their way up in US capitalist society. To succeed in this they must abandon the best Irish traditions. That is the traditions of struggle, of Henry Joy and the United Irishmen, when was the last time you heard him mentioned on an Irish parade, of the Fenians, of James Connolly, of Jim Larkin, of Liam Mellowes. To mention these fighters and this tradition would damage their efforts to advance in US capitalist society. So not able to celebrate these they dye the river green wear green shirts and bow to the Catholic priests. This Irish day is not a good one for me.
Before my heath failed me I used to organize an alternative Irish day. The last one was with my friend and African American blues player Jimmie Lee Robinson. The theme was to thank the African American people for what they did to help Irish culture. The idea was that the black revolt in the US in the 1950's and 1960's inspired the civil rights movement in Ireland. In the initial period before nationalism took over, the movement there marched under the African American civil rights song "We shall overcome." The civil rights movement in Ireland inspired by the black revolt in the US in turn increased interest in Irish culture and revived it dramatically.
Jimmie Lee and I went to the theatre where the event was to take place. It was closed and the door locked. The people who had said they would get it for us and help us with the event did not turn up. I would later find out that they were close to the Daly machine and when they thought more about helping me and Jimmie Lee they thought it would not be good for their careers.
Not defeated we went on to an Irish pub where I knew there would be a session. Sure enough about a dozen people were sitting round playing and singing. I asked them could Jimmie Lee sit in. It was like I threw a grenade with the pin pulled in amongst them. They went into a frantic whispering huddle. Then they sent two of their number over and said that Jimmie Lee could not join because the rhythm of Irish music and African American music was different. I could see by their pathetic expressions and tone of voice that I was listening to lies. It was the different color of Jimmie's skin that was the problem.
I apologized profusely to Jimmie and turned to leave. As we went a man jumped up from the session and followed us. I know where you can play. At Mary's. Come on. Hesitantly as I did not want a repeat of the racist insult to Jimmie we followed our new acquaintance. Mary's was a tiny pub and was empty except for Mary who was behind the counter. Sure Sure set up in the corner there. Jimmie Lee with his guitar and spurs which he used for percussion and Neiley our new friend with his bodhran got going. With Jimmie leading and encouraging Neiley very soon the music was flowing. The blues with a whiff of the Irish now and then. It was beautiful.
Then the door opened and in came three bikers, leather, chains, big boots the lot. With my stereotype I thought ah no racism, trouble. I said to Neiley if they insult Jimmie Lee we will have to fight. I will not have him insulted twice in one night. Neiley momentarily went white and then recovered and said okay. I knew then I had made a genuine new friend.
The bikers came with their bottles in their hands and stood around the corner where Jimmie Lee and Neiley were playing. Watching. Listening. Then the most wonderful thing happened. After about ten minutes the bikers were singing and shouting and dancing to the music. Mary was clapping her hands behind the bar and laughing with glee. The music had done it.
I still miss Ireland very bad but every now and then I get a moment like this and the US is bearable. Just as long as I do not go to the parades with their Chicago cops pipe band, these cops with their tradition of killing workers and African Americans, marching with their bagpipes wearing Scottish tartans and pretending to be Irish. It is a tough life.
See my book The Donegal Woman based on the life of my grandmother. It was an Irish best seller. Google John Throne to order a copy.
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