An Irish Celebration of Despair, Remembrance, Hope

" ... while St. Patrick's Day was once a celebration of politics more than culture, it now can be fully about the celebration of a wonderful culture that strives for peace, prosperity and humanity."

As a young child growing up in the Riverdale/Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, I learned from my family and friends everything about a little island in the North Atlantic Ocean, the country of Ireland. At such a young age never having seen the land for myself, I had to rely on stories and black and white photos to try and imagine what it was like to live in a rocky, green climate that always seemed so dismal and so far away.

My aunt Ann Coggins was the one member of the family who kept up the Irish heritage and made sure that all the American Irish, those of us that were born in the states, were well educated on where we came from.

Every Sunday she would come up from midtown Manhattan and spend time with us. It was typical that WFUV, Fordham University’s Irish channel, would be playing in the background. The radio would play forever, it seemed, telling us all about Irish language, dancing and “The Troubles” back home. Every March 17 was like Christmas. The house was filled with family and friends as the most celebrated holiday in Irish American history. St. Patrick’s Day was here.

On my mother’s side, my grandmother Mary Coggins O’Reilly came from a town called Roscommon and my grandfather James O’Reilly came from a Town called Cavan. They both immigrated to the United States in 1922 and met in New York City and had four children. They have all since past.

On my father’s side, my grandmother Helen Galvin also came from Roscommon and my grandfather, who was Protestant, came from County Armagh. They both immigrated in 1921 to the United States and met in New York City and had two children George (my dad) and John. They too have all since past.

During my early childhood in the 1980s, Ireland was in terrible shape, both north and south. War raged in the north as the Irish Catholics IRA were battling the Irish Protestants as the IRA was attempting to cast out the British government from 700 years of domination. The British government at times used very handed tactics to crush the Irish Catholic rebellion and it was very personal for all of us. The Irish economy in the south (Republic) was in shambles. High unemployment and no hope for a better life plagued the Irish for centuries. These were the main reasons my family immigrated to the United States.

My Aunt Ann Coggins, an IRA supporter, would tell us stories of how British soldiers came to Roscommon and rounded up the men and shook them down to find weapons and supporters of the local IRA.

As she told the stories you could see the horror she experienced and the reasons for the deep hatred of the British government. As an American of Irish descent, it was like I was being torn apart. My country is a staunch ally of Britain and to remain quiet and neutral was the best course of action so I wouldn’t upset my aunt. I figured I’d draw my own conclusions on Irish politics.

Well, trying to understand Irish politics is sometimes like trying to figure out how the Earth came to be. You get the surface but all the underlying stuff is very complicated. One thing was for certain, through the 1980s Ireland was going to be tough to solve. As for my Irish friends,  many of them supported the IRA and the cause. My interest in this complicated and confusing part of Irish history caused me to walk away and disengage and St. Patrick’s Day to me became a reminder of it all.

As the violence in Northern Ireland became more widely known in the 1990s, it took the courage of an American president, Bill Clinton, to say after 700 years enough was enough. He pushed to find peace in Northern Ireland and bring the island nation stability so it could experience what many Irish Americans experience in the United States: peace and prosperity.

In my eyes, the distant war that I had known my whole life was coming to a close and my ancestors and family could finally be at peace. I began to find more interest in my Irish heritage again and actually went to the country in 1994 for the first time and I fell in love.

I went in search for the family farm in Corrigan Row, Roscommon, where just the foundation was left on the home of Aunt Ann and grandma. It was an emotional experience, something I’ll never forget. While I was there I did see the Irish prospective of what they called “The Troubles.” A bomb had exploded in Enniskillen killing a woman and her children. They were murdered innocently as the IRA and the UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters), “The Protestants,” were battling in the final days of the war. That was the day I finally realized that both sides were nothing but terrorists and that I finally knew where I stood on Irish politics.

What nailed the coffin were the events on 9/11. I realized that day that men and women who take it upon themselves to host and participate in wild acts of terrorism are not who I wanted to be associated with. What would Aunt Ann think if she were alive today?

So now it’s up to the second generation and the generations that will follow to carry the torch of those that came before us who endured the struggles and to finally heal the wounds of hate and religious intolerance.

As I get older, I realize that life is about just trying to find humanity in us all, and while St. Patrick's Day was once a celebration of politics more than culture, it now can be fully about the celebration of a wonderful culture that strives for peace, prosperity and humanity.

I encourage everyone who has never been to the Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade to attend this year on Sunday, March 13. You will be quite impressed and will learn a small bit about Irish culture.

Dan McCann March 13, 2011 at 05:07 PM
Max, I think for what happened to her in Ireland she would have still supported the IRA. I certainly don't agree. As for the comments about the anti immigration of the ancestors of Irish immigrants you fail to realize that my grandparents had it very rough. There was no social system to keep them going they had to fight, claw and scratch for everything. That made them Americans. That helped the Irish, Italians, Polish and many other European groups make the United States the most powerful nation in the world. Without them and their sacrifices we would be speaking German. So while I certainly sympathize with the immigrants coming in from Central and South America all I say is do it legally, have some pride and work legally and I'll gladly welcome you to the United States.
Max Synder March 13, 2011 at 07:01 PM
Blame the immigrant. The problem with New Haven is not New Haven, it is the people who distrust someone who is different than they are, and so move out to the "suburbs," throwing stones at folks who are struggling, and at those who trying to help them. Grow up Lance, the real world does not look like East Haven, or see things through your narrow lens, but resembles New Haven in its diversity. Grow up Lance, the real world doesn't need your rage but clear thinking, thoughtful people, who can give and take with others, in order to create a more perfect union.
Max Synder March 13, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Dan, your logic on the immigration issue is myopic and problematic, as to think that those who have come here today, without proper papers, are suffering any less than those of the past. I am curious why you made the distinction between the Irish illegal immigrants here now and those from Central and South America, but I don't want to digress about East Haven's inability to be color blind. You dont think these immigrants today, these men and women, who have left everything dont have pride? They, like those immigrants before them, fight, struggle, scratch, and crawl to help their families get ahead. I guess it is not enough for you. They can not come here legally because the law does not allow it, when our economy (a bit stagnant now) was in need of workers they came in droves, and yes illegally, working and suffering hard. Their kids, many born here, see how hard their parents work, and learn from them, sacrifice, suffering, and hard work gets you ahead. But I guess it is not enough for the likes of you and Lance. Too bad you are so short sighted and so far away from the experience of your immigrant ancestors. Don't forget, St Patrick was an immigrant! Go Irish!
Dan McCann March 13, 2011 at 07:38 PM
Max, This country is made up rules and laws. These people regardless if they are Irish, Central American or whatever are breaking the law and need to be sent home. If they want to come here do it legally. That is not myoptic or problematic it's a fact. As for Pride, I guess you equate someone breaking the law is someone with pride. Give me a break. I am not far away from my immigrant past, I am very proud of my family who came to the United States LEGALLY.
StavenObserver March 13, 2011 at 08:42 PM
Yep made of laws, our laws, after we invaded, raped, robbed and pillaged the "LEGAL" occupants here.
Max Synder March 13, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Ireland has some of the most liberal immigration laws in the European Union because they are grateful for the reception that their ancestors received. There are no US laws that can deal with the immigration situation we currently have in this country. Your sound bite of rules and laws rings pretty hollow. You and your like refuse to understand that infractions of immigration law do not carry the same weight as a criminal violation of the law. You want to speak of rules and laws, but only when it is convenient for your agenda and fears. As for pride, you are shaming your ancestors. These folks today have the sense of their own dignity as people that rather to live in poverty, to live in a situation where they can not provide for their children, they emigrant to the United States, where they are welcomed for being industrious workers, while our government turned a blind eye. You may classify these folks as illegal, but there is a deeper question of justice. Pride is that they can lift their heads high because they are providing a life for their children.
Max Synder March 13, 2011 at 09:54 PM
Because of a drought, the children of Israel found themselves in Egypt, where they were enslaved. The Egyptians grew fearful of how numerous the Israelites were becoming, and so heaped on them even harsher labor conditions. Pharaoh order the massacre of the first born of the Hebrews. A young Hebrew woman, floated her new born baby in a basket on the Nile. That baby would be raised by Pharaoh's wife, and named Moises. Well you know the rest of the story. It is that story and the story of my own ancestors that teach me to welcome the foreigner in our midst. St Patrick was a foreigner! Go Irish!!
Dan McCann March 13, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Yeah Ireland has very progressive immigration policies. Not since the economy collapsed read the link. http://www.statewatch.org/news/jun00/06irelnd.htm
Dan McCann March 13, 2011 at 11:13 PM
Max, You don't know me and I take exception to your comments. I have opinions many people agree with my point of view as do people on your point of view. Let it go.
Max Synder March 14, 2011 at 01:39 AM
Dan, You don't know most of the people you are calling illegal and, by your distorted view of sacrifice, making their lives a living hell. Furthermore, it seems you do so with a self-righteousness that is dangerously broaching fascism. May be some of that good old Christian love thy neighbor and Good Samaritan teachings might have stuck a bit more in your Christian upbringing, if St Patrick's Day wasn't just an occasion for a parade, some songs, and green beer. St. Patrick was an immigrant amongst the Celts, tried as they might to scare him off, they did not succeed. Go Irish!
ASmith March 14, 2011 at 03:14 AM
Well, another year of youngsters getting sauced in downtown New Haven, litter everywhere, saw some youngsters relieving themselves behind a bunch of bushes. How come people don't act like this at the Columbus day parade? They don't respect the Irish and what the parade stands for, just think its an excuse for gettin rowdy around the omni.
listen up March 16, 2011 at 07:04 AM
hey max, do a google news search of "immigration police" any day of the week. some how i don't think cartels were an issue in ireland back then, nor was there the additional burden on the taxpayers of entitlements and 17 thousand dollar per kid public education that we have to pay for.
Max Synder March 16, 2011 at 06:18 PM
listen up, it is all the fault of the immigrant, right? You know the Irish brought their own mafia with them, and it flourished in the cities, but this does not diminish the whole Irish community, even though many tried. History repeats itself. There is no convincing the likes of you. The immigrant pays taxes and does not qualify for benefits because of their status. I know you and yours would like to not educate a whole group of kids, but thankfully to Prudence Crandall, who led the way on this, now we have laws to ensure all children are educated. Our nation is strong because of immigrants. They re industrious and committed to succeed despite the hardship and prejudice they face. We could learn a thing or two from them about confronting economic hardship and despair. Remember St Patrick was a foreigner.
listen up March 17, 2011 at 03:07 AM
Ah, "Max" you're entertaining. the leftist "plant" dedicated to anonymously harrassing the tax paying working class people of EastHaven. You're theories are working so well in New Haven! 35 percent dropout rate, a few murders a month, one of the highest property tax rates in the state, and now a "rain tax" with the obligitory exemptions for friends of the leftists. Oh, and by the way.... got layoffs? The cartels do appreciate your efforts though. lulz.
Max Synder March 17, 2011 at 05:55 AM
Listen up, we are so doing well managing our town deficit and a school system that is so badly serving our youth, that there should be a state take over. So, do we blame the immigrant for our problems? East Haven has the lowest number of college graduates than any other town in Connecticut. Blame the immigrant? East Haven ruined by small town politics and small minds. Happy St Patrick's Day!
listen up March 17, 2011 at 12:28 PM
Max, tell me how allowing in ILLEGAL immigrants benefits the taxpayer?
Dan McCann March 17, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Hey Max Synder and ASmith if you're such a proponent on immigration and are so in love with the idea that they should just be handed everything why don't you offer your home, food and cash so they can live off you. As for the rest of us who believe it a virtue to earn your keep just be quiet. Lastly, FREEDOM ISN'T FREE. You have to EARN THAT. Something you just don't have a grasp of.
Max Synder March 18, 2011 at 03:18 AM
Happy St. Patrick Day Dan! Apparently you've been celebrating a weee bit. Perhaps you should stay away from the computer until your episode passes. But seriously, what makes you think there will be less for you and yours? Because that is part of your fear, no? Last I looked, especially after the snow storms, I saw plenty of people that I guess were immigrants working like heck to take the snow off our roofs and shoveling it off our sidewalks. Hard work should make a person free, no? The immigrant has EARNED IT. You're right Dano, Freedom is not free. You have to work for it. As the deported Jews, gypsies, intellectuals, and other arrived at Auschwitz and other concentration camps they saw a sign placed at the entrance of the death camps, Arbeit macht frei, "work makes you free". Of course the Nazis had other plans. What is your plan Dan? Didn't St Patrick teach what Jesus taught? Love your neighbor, the good Samaritan, etc.... Hey Dan who is your neighbor? The other part of the Bible (The Torah) says that we should not oppress the alien among us, welcome the foreigner. I guess you missed Sunday school Dan, but that is ok, we can help you see the light. Happy St Patrick's Day, and remember St Patrick was an immigrant.
Dan McCann March 18, 2011 at 03:37 AM
Max, Taking morality from the likes of yourself is nothing more than a sham. You reference the Jews, Gypies, intellectuals with my statement the work makes you free? You are a very sick individual to make such a comparison. I know many people of Jewish decent some of which did suffer in the camps. From 1845 to 1850 the Irish had their holocust called the Great Famine, where millions of Irish died in the fields of Ireland while the British Government took health live stock and whatever food they could find and brought it back to England. The remainder of the others either starved or set forth to America. Where they were treated worse, YES I SAID worse than the ILLEGAL immigrants of today. Those Irish had no food, no money and to pay their way in America were sent to war in Mexico and later served in the Civil War. How many of these new immigrants are signing up to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq? Those are FACTS and a person with loose morality, no common thread of rule of law and just an general bleeding heart would just be better to give everything away. Hey wait that's sounds like a MARXIST. Could it be that Max is a MARXIST. Don't tell me about Jesus Christ, I am Catholic, I know the teachings and how dare you try to even think about what my beliefs are. Max I'd like you to spend one day in the neighborhood I grew up in, the schools I attended and I could assure you that I have been so culturally diversified it would make a lot of heads spin. póg mo thóin
Max Synder March 18, 2011 at 03:55 AM
You are showing your irish! The fact that you have to go to such histrionics about being so culturally diversified makes me think of the old saying, he who doth protest too much. You are Catholic. What an lousy example of a Catholic you are. As I recall, the Catholic Church is trying to defend the poor, the immigrant, the unborn, the old, and sick. Your politics see to be devoid of a morality. Calling me a MARXIST, is like me calling you a FASCIST, but I digress. As a Catholic, you should know that your church supports the illegal immigrant, a comprehensive immigration reform, or are you one of those Catholics on St Patrick's Day? There are all kinds of cultural non practicing Jews, are you a cultural non practicing Catholic? You have a bizarre view of history and even a more perverse sense of justice (i think you guys call retributive justice). So according to your catholic view of history:" my people suffered, screw everyone else, they should suffer too, because my ancestors suffered." Problematic. Hey did you know that Hilter was a Catholic.
Max Synder March 18, 2011 at 04:00 AM
By the by, my reference to Arbeit macht frei and the Nazi concentration camp and your statement that somehow the immigrant does not earn their way, was to call attention to your erroneous thinking, instead, I may have just enraged you more. (Do you think Gene is enjoying this exchange?) Happy St Patrick's Day. Now go to bed.
Dan McCann March 18, 2011 at 04:13 AM
Marx...Sorry Max. Like I have said in previous post and even my article I have ZERO problems with anyone wanting to come to America, just do it by the laws of the land. Half of these people constitute an invasion of the United States by scaling our fence lines in the South West. Are you that stupid not to see the difference? Now I will say this for the last time. The next comment refering me to Hilter I will kindly ask you to meet me in person and we can settle it at that time and you'll see what getting your Irish up really means. I don't always support Catholic Docturine and I think the spirit of the immigration issue is to give humanity to these people. You make it seem that we are treating them like AlQeada in Cuba. Have you once asked me about Amnesty? Surprise!!! I support it in limted fashion. I would have zero problems with full amnesty under the following conditions. 1) the illegal has FULLY represented every undocumented person in his or her family so they can become legal. 2) The ILLEGAL must commit to becoming a US CITIZEN within the 1st 3 years of his stay in the US. 3) The ILLEGAL must not be a felon here or in his home country. 4) The ILLEGAL must have a DOCUMENTED JOB where he pays local, state and federal taxes. 5) The ILLEGAL does not participate in transporting/selling or involvement in human trafficing. Thats the starting point Marxy. Anymore idiot statements you'd like to make. Foot and mouth disease...
Dan McCann March 18, 2011 at 04:18 AM
Oh and lastly, I think it's a bad decision repatriating these people back to their country of origin, However if they end up in the hands of law enforcement all bets are off they run that risk. For those who don't willfully commit felonies in the USA and if they give themselves up, follow a path to a legal US citizen, I'm all for them becoming a US citizen. Didn't think us conservatives had any compassion lefty eh?
Max Synder March 18, 2011 at 04:35 AM
Gee you are getting awful touchy! I did not refer to you as Hilter, but maybe a cryto-fascist. You can call me names, it seems to help you focus. But I must say that being called a Marxist would have gotten someone in Nazi controlled Germany condemned to death. I do think Gene is enjoying this.
Dan McCann March 18, 2011 at 04:36 AM
marx show yourself punk
Max Synder March 18, 2011 at 01:20 PM
WOOF. No actually it was the boy who always cried wolf. The enemy is there, no over there, it is the liberal, the Marxists, the Socialists, the press, the politician who works for consensus, the immigrant, the poor, those intellectuals, or simply put, anyone who does look and think like "me". The fear mongering and pitting one group of people against another are the seeds of fascism. You and yours like to cry "wolf" but the enemy is really with in you. Fear is the root of our worse behaviors and has lead to some of most destructive moments of human history.
ASmith March 18, 2011 at 01:38 PM
I think the real problem in our world can be read in the Register today. The woman in West Haven who was an immigrant who was murdered because nobody really paid attention to her calls for help. Our country is becoming an angry cold place. So many now have such a dislike for the immigrant population that they are ignoring their obligations to humanity to do the right thing. Hate eats away at your soul. When you face your maker on judgment day, all your words and actions will be taken into account. What would Jesus do? My pastor tells us that when we have a conversation or take an action, imagine we are doing it with or to Jesus. If we couldn't do it to him, or say it to him, then we should not do it or say it to anyone. That poor woman. Those orphan children. It should not happen. Could it happen here in East Haven too? That's all I ask. Stop the hate and find a peaceful solution. I'm gettin old and not sure I will live to see it. I don't want to live to see my country torn apart by hate. We find these truths to be self evident, all men/women are created equal, we all have a right to life and liberty. Liberty we lucked out cause all those people in 1776 fought for it. My people trace back to the mayflower. They died so Dan and Max could be born here. You guys, your people came here as immigrants. I dont begrudge you cause my people made the sacrifice to make this country free so your people could come here. And I don't begrudge others either.
Max Synder March 18, 2011 at 02:22 PM
DITTO. Well said.
Dan McCann March 18, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Marxy Punk..... Have a cowardly day...
Max Synder March 18, 2011 at 02:57 PM


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