What We Can Learn From Celebrating Irish-American Heritage Month

What We Can Learn From Celebrating Irish-American Heritage Month

March 15, 20213 min read

About two weeks ago, President Joseph Biden declared March 2021 Irish-American Heritage Month. In an official statement, the president said, "We owe a debt of gratitude to the Irish-American inventors and entrepreneurs who helped define America as the land of opportunity... The fabric of modern America is woven through with the green of the Emerald Isle."

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, Joseph Lennon, PhD, agrees. He hopes to use this presidential declaration as an opportunity to expand the conversation around what it means to be of Irish descent 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" in a way that reaches 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."

Per Dr. Lennon, these historical events are tied to our present day. He sees a need for "the level of recent racist attachments to Irishness... to be confronted with historical knowledge and anti-racist understandings."

With such 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 Day celebrations."

He adds, "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 this year.

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 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. This free celebration will include live entertainment segments, from an Irish breakfast tutorial with study abroad director Mary Madec to lunchtime laughs with actor Johnny Murphy, and will culminate with a streamed Irish music fèis (or 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, please click here.

Connect with:
  • Joseph Lennon, PhD
    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.

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