The soul and faith of Ireland is undeniable. Eamon De Valera, in response to Churchill’s criticism of Ireland’s neutrality in World War II, said something that defines Irish perseverance and heritage: “Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoilations, famines, massacres in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but that each time on returning [to] consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?” This spirit, which has contributed to American history since before the Revolutionary War, is what is celebrated during Irish-American Heritage Month.
History of Irish-American Heritage Month
There has been an Irish influence on the American soul and American history since before the Revolutionary War. By 1776, there were already 300,000 Irish immigrants in the colonies and their contributions to the fight for independence were undeniable. In March of 1991, President George Bush declared the first Irish-American Heritage month. Every year since, subsequent presidents have signed similar proclamations. The month of March was, of course, chosen for the fact that so many Irish-Americans celebrate their heritage on St. Patrick’s Day.
Irish-American Heritage Month Events and Activities
Without a doubt, the number one event that that celebrates Irish-American Heritage Month is the many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations around the country. St. Patrick’s Day, on March 17th, is often celebrated with parades. The largest parade is New York City’s, which includes over 150,000 participants, three million observers, and a 1.5 mile route. There are parades in cities and towns across the country. Chicago, IL celebrates by dyeing the Chicago River green. Another way to celebrate is to eat the traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage, perhaps with some Irish soda bread on the side. Throughout the month, many museums and libraries have special exhibits to celebrate the Irish influence on American history.
In keeping with the spirit of Irish-American Heritage month, the best activities for children are those that educate them on the history of Irish influence in the United States. One activity is to find pictures and facts about famous Irish-Americans in history, such as Charles Carroll, Audie Murphy, Margaret Brown, Bobby Jones, or Edgar Allen Poe. Another activity is to build a time-line of American history, marking major events – such as wars, major legislation passed, and significant dates in history. Then find some famous Irish-Americans who were involved in those events and write down or illustrate what they did. A final activity is to find writings by Irish-American authors and read them.
A Vital Part of American History
Irish-American Heritage Month celebrates the fact that Irish people, customs, and influence have formed a vital part of American history. Currently, twelve percent of Americans claim Irish ancestry. Their ancestors are the ones who helped fight for independence, fought in wars, settled the frontier, and contributed to the culture and values Americans hold dear today. March is a time to recognize those contributions and remember the many Irish-Americans who both helped form the United States and continue to influence it today.