What we can learn from celebrating Irish-American heritage all month longMarch 15, 20213 min read
President Joseph Biden declared March of 2021 Irish-American Heritage month. In his statement, the president highlighted, “We owe a debt of gratitude to the Irish-American inventors and entrepreneurs who helped define America as the land of opportunity.”
As the director of the Center for Irish Studies at Villanova University, an institution founded by Irish Augustinians to educate the children of Irish immigrants, Dr. Joseph Lennon agrees. He hopes to use this declaration as an opportunity to expand the conversation around what it means to be Irish-American beyond wearing green and watching the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.
The way Dr. Lennon sees it, “there is much more to Irish-America than a parade and parties.”
With such a rich history of Irish immigrants and their descendants living in and contributing to the development of the United States, Dr. Lennon sees March 2021 as an important time to reflect on the “contributions and travails of this ethnicity” that reach beyond “silly slogans and marketing schemes.” He reminds us, “there are over 30 million Irish-Americans. The Irish contributed massively to the infrastructure of industrial America and later to the civil, education and business worlds—not to mention the Catholic Church.”
Dr. Lennon also hopes this month will help redefine the larger notion of what it looks like to be Irish and American. He notes that “38% of African Americans have Irish ancestry” but acknowledges that “this is a complicated issue,” since in some cases this may stem from abuses suffered during the American practice of slavery. It is important conversations like these that Dr. Lennon wants to bring to light during Irish-American Heritage Month, and he stresses that, “more research is needed into understanding this history, as well as the unions between Irish immigrants and northern bound African-Americans during the late nineteenth century.”
These historical events are tied to our present day. Dr. Lennon sees this as linked to “the level of recent racist attachments to Irishness needs to be confronted with historical knowledge and anti-racist understandings.”
With these important issues in mind, Dr. Lennon wants to impart that “the Irish diaspora is global and diverse and Irish culture runs much more deeply and broadly in America than we might guess by just attending the St. Patrick's celebrations.”
He finishes, “I'm curious to see if the conversation continues past St. Patrick's Day this year.”
Despite most St. Patrick’s Day events and programs being virtual in 2021, there are many opportunities to celebrate Irish-American heritage. At Villanova, the Center for Irish Studies is hosting a virtual St. Patrick's Day Celebration called Links Across the Atlantic on Wednesday March 17 from 10am-9pm. This free celebration will include live segments of entertainment, from Irish breakfast in Galway to lunchtime in Dublin City, and will culminate in the evening with a streamed Irish Music Fèis/Festival in partnership with Tune Supply featuring We Banjo 3, The Friel Sisters, and One for the Foxes! For more information or to register for this event, click here.
To contact Dr. Joseph Lennon, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph Lennon, PhD Director, Center for Irish Studies & Associate Dean, International and Interdisciplinary Initiatives | College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Joseph Lennon, PhD is an expert in Irish hunger strikes, India and Ireland relationships and contemporary Irish issues.