Saturday, March 14, 2015

Boiling piss on St. Patrick’s Day

Went to the grocery store to pick up corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. A gaggle of old folks gathered around the meat cooler, turning over the shrink-wrapped meat, picking and choosing, taking their bloody time. What were they looking for? It’s all the same, right? Why are all the purchasers of this traditional Irish meat just old folks (me included)? Good questions. I’ll get to them.

In the meantime, here’s another question: Everybody celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, right? Green beer, green rivers in Chicago, green lights on the opera house in Sidney, green parades in Canada, green pubs in Buenos Aries where not a single person of Irish decent shows up. There are jokes on the Internet about drunks in yoga positions. “Kiss me I’m drunk or Irish or whatever” T shirts. On March 17 the whole world is Irish and few people know why.

Never mind. I’ll cook corned beef today in honor of the part of me that’s Irish, wear orange on St. Patrick’s day for the part of me that’s not. No one will give a rip about what I wear and I’ll wipe my hands on the seat of my pants while cooking – in my Irish way. People don’t know the history of what they’re celebrating, don’t care, they just want somebody to pass them another Guinness stout.

But, you see, just like every Hispanic is not Mexican, every Jew is not Polish, every Swede is not blonde, everyone of Irish decent is not Catholic. I’m Presbyterian, which has been an issue in England, Ireland and Scotland since before the 1600s

My ancestor Archibald Campbell, a stout member of the Church of Scotland, which became the Presbyterian Church, was beheaded on the 'Maiden' in 1661 for his religious and political beliefs. People in Great Britain have been killing each other for religious, economic and political reasons for more than 500 years. This conflict helped launch the founding of America.

The Maiden. Courtesy: National Museum of Scotland

“I love Highlanders, and I love Lowlanders, but when I come to that branch of our race that has been grafted on to the Ulster stem I take off my hat in veneration and awe." Lord Rosebery, 5th Earl of Rosebery, 1st Earl of Midlothian, British Prime Minister 1894.

Until 2010 in America, I was part of this stem, this distinct ethnic group of immigrants identified since the founding of the nation through the U.S. Census as Scots-Irish. In 2010, Scots-Irish citizens comprised 1.05 percent of the U.S. population. The government no longer recognizes this minority even though more than a third of all U.S. presidents had substantial ancestral origins in Ulster, the northern province of Ireland.

President Bill Clinton spoke proudly of this fact, and his own ancestral links with the province, during his two visits to Ulster. Scots-Irish Presbyterians founded what is now Princeton University in the U.S. as a seminary for its ministers. Mark Twain and Elvis Presley were Scots-Irish, for heaven’s sake.

If this marginalizing of a minority had happened to Puerto Ricans, 1.52 percent of the U.S. population; Chinese, 1.12 percent; or Sub-Saharan Africans, 0.9 percent; there’d be a huge outcry from Americans. For the Scots-Irish—not a peep.”

Here’s a Wiki list of famous Scots-Irish Americans – that may be a surprise.

We’re talking a lot of history here. For example, during the American Revolution, Scots-Irish troops fought successfully to prevent the British from taking control of the Hudson River Valley during the Saratoga Campaign. George Washington said of the American troops who fought those fierce battles that, if the war was lost everywhere else, he would take a last stand among the Scots-Irish of his native Virginia.

The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga by John Trumbull. The painting was completed in 1821, and hangs in the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D. C.

He saw the Highlanders’ heart, knew the Lowlanders’ tenacity. After the Scots-Irish successes in battle, Congress declared December 18, 1777, a national day "for solemn Thanksgiving and praise;" the nation's first official observance of a holiday with that name.

So, keep in mind that Saint Patrick’s Day is a holy day of obligation for Roman Catholics in Ireland. It’s also a feast day in the Church of Ireland. The church calendar avoids the observance of saints' feasts during certain solemnities, moving the saint's day to a time outside those periods. St Patrick's Day is occasionally affected by this requirement, when March 17 falls during Holy Week.

So, not everyone of Irish descent is obligated to go to church or get drunk on Saint Patrick’s Day. Not everyone wants to wear green. Not everyone wants to kiss leprechauns or idiots who have no idea what the holy day of remembrance is about.

I guess it’s the loss of history, culture and tradition that bothers me most. People assume I’m Irish, which is true, but I’m also Scottish, which they don't seem to get. I’m a two-for-one American with history that literally stretches back to the late 5th Century and some say the Campbell's are descended from the Briton Arthur the Hero King, the one in the Knights of the Round Table myth.

I guess I’m miffed because these days being Scots-Irish doesn’t mean much in America anymore. I get what's going on, but only pinch me for not wearing green on St. Patrick's Day if you're looking for a fight.

Under every kilt are Irish genes.

Now, about that corned beef. Here’s the deal. The old people at the grocery store know best. They take their time looking for a firm, rounded cut of brisket with no sign of gristle and a good balance of fat for tenderness. They will, as my mother used to say, take the beef home and “boil the piss out of it,” throw onions, carrots, potatoes and cabbage in the pot.

The meat will be tender and sweet, make great sandwiches on rye bread the next day, and remind me and my family we are Scots-Irish, enjoying the leftovers.

Post a comment, I'd love to hear from you. Éirinn go Brách Ireland Forever!