HOT TOPIC: Ireland
Volume 3, Issue 23 - February 25, 2007

"Scotch-Irish culture has been impacting American life since the early settlers of our nation. First settling heavily in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and then migrating down into Virginia and Kentucky and points south. During the Great Potato Famine of the early-to-mid 1800s, nearly one million Irish folk came to America in search of relief from the poverty and oppression of their homeland. Since then, millions more have become United States citizens. Famous Irish-Americans include John and Lionel Barrymore, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Ford, Judy Garland, John Hancock, Grace Kelley, John Kennedy, Georgia O'Keefe and Eugene O'Neill and Ronald Reagan.

It wasn’t until I began reading Irish authors as a teen that I realized what my Irish heritage meant to me. James Joyce, W. Somerset Maugham, George Bernard Shaw, not to mention Samuel Beckett, W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde resonated within me in ways no other writers had ever done; a haunting, unrelenting resonance that made me want to know more about my ancestors.

The history of the McKenzie’s, like all Irish clans, is one of poverty and suffering. Leaving the Scottish highlands where they had aligned themselves closely with the loyalist MacDonald’s, they made their way first to Ireland and eventually to Quebec and finally Boston. Here Catholics knew the sign CNNA placed in the windows of businesses meant that Catholics need not apply for work. Stereotyped and left to handle the most menial of jobs, Irish workers were referred to as “Paddys.” The “paddy wagon” was named after those who were rounded up and taken off to jails. For all the opportunities our nation offered immigrants, the welcome was not kind. Still our grandparents and great-grandparents persevered, and eventually Irish immigrants assimilated into mainstream American life.

As we head into March and towards St. Patrick’s Day, this week’s D12 offers you a wide range of resources on Ireland and Irish-Americans. Take this opportunity to immerse your students in the Irish experience!

May your glass be ever full, may the roof over your head be always strong, and may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead."

©2005 Walter McKenzie

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