What St. Patrick's Day should really mean

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     Today is a day when Capital Hill offices empty out early  as federal employees trek to familiar  pubs, the Chicago River runs  green, and the thousands of Long Island fire fighters and school children descend upon Manhattan to celebrate St. Patrick' Day.

  
      Yesterday, members  of Trump's inner circle, including V.P. Pence, Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, joined House Speaker Paul Ryan and others who  claim Irish heritage to welcome Enda Kenny, the Irish taoiseach (prime minster) to the White House.

    Their presence in the Trump administration and in the GOP causes one to wonder what these descendants of  √Čirinn have in common with their  ancestors?

    I grew up in an Irish Catholic household in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston with four sisters and a brother. I was the first in my family privileged to attend a university.

     My mother was a home- maker with a grammar school education. My father also had only a grammar school education. Both sets of their parents had emigrated from Galway, Cork, and Roscommon.  For decades my father patrolled the streets of South Boston as a beat cop. He was always thankful to have a modest-paying job as a pubic servant because of his experiences and those of his family during the Great Depression.

    My father also always remembered what it was like in the early 1920s when, as a worker in  non-union factory, his boss ordered him and other Irish-American employees to participate in a torch-light parade for Warren Harding. He also remembered the indignities that his parents and friends had suffered as Irish immigrants.

         I never heard my mother or father utter a bad word about any immigrants from any other country. In addition, because they remembered their roots and from wence they came,  they did  not look down upon the poor  or other minorities or ascribe their misfortune to personal failings. They remembered the entreaty of the gospel according to  Luke, "To whom much is given, much is expected in return."

    After his brother  and a sister died prematurely, my father purchased a separate house on Rexford Avenue in Mattapan and placed his two nieces and a nephew along with his parents in that house. He supported his second family by working extra details as a policeman  for over two decades.

    My mother was one of eleven children. One of her sisters, Helen McNiff, was a seminal influence in my life. Aunt Nellie had suffered enormous adversity in her life but somehow she always remained an optimist. Her favorite comment was, "Sit down and have a cup of tea and everything will feel better." Nellie suffered privation but, because of the New Deal was able to eke out an existence on Social Security widow's payments and through public employment as a cleaning  women in the court houses of Suffolk county. Nellie was the one who constantly reminded me that  all true sons and daughters of Ireland could only be true to their heritage by their  shared commitment to social justice.

        My father and mother and Aunt Nellie were lifelong Democrats and Catholics.  They revered Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Pope John XIII. The message of inclusion and optimism that each of these three leaders exuded persuaded them that their children's futures would be  brighter and better than the lives they enjoyed. In their own, unschooled ways, my parents and my aunt understood that there was something profoundly wrong about greed and the needless accumulation of ever more possessions. They were also skeptical of all of those politicians, including  Ronald Reagan, who suggested that government was the problem, not an unregulated market economy that emphasized  individual short-term interests no matter how detrimental to the social fabric.

      As descendants of the Irish diaspora, my parents and my Aunt Nellie never lost their conviction that collective action could make our country and the word a better place and that the celebration of solitary acts would do little to promote the public interest. In short, they understood that we are all in this together.

    That is the true message of St. Patrick's Day.

   
      



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