A few thoughts after reading Aine Greaney's post today...
Point of Information: Colleen is a common English language name, and a generic term for Irish women or girls, from the Irish cailín.
So here's the thing, colle... Aine, sorry. Americans are known the world over for our ethnic ignorance and blurt-arrhea so please accept my complete acknowlegement and hearty apologies for the teasing you have encountered in dealings with uncouth fellow countrymen. Sometimes, as luck would have it, people attempt to connect with others in a way that can be considered offensive. We have a looooong history (ironically, developed in just 200-odd years here) of offending, both near and far. No one escapes it really.
Having said that, a little history goes a long way, so here's the thing...
Up until the mid-19th century, most Irish immigrants in America were members of the Protestant middle class. However, between 1845 and 1852, after the Great Potato Famine, close to a million poor and uneducated Irish Catholics began pouring out of Ireland to escape starvation (I'm still mystified that they didn't turn to fishing, but that's a question for another day).
Those arriving in this country were particularly despised by the Protestant majority of the day. When our newest arrivals took to the streets in numbers on St. Patrick's Day, and enjoyed what might have been considered an unseemly amount of celebration by the uptight Protestants, newspapers portrayed them in cartoons as drunk, violent, and ignorant - as you pointed out.
Back to the politics.
Social and political groups share a common ground game, the painfully conspicuous and blatently sophomoric game of One Up, which is always being played - everywhere.
In order to foster and engender support for this socio-political game with the Irish immigrants, players published their ignoramous cartoons, refused them jobs and decent housing, and generally spit on whatever efforts were made to gain clout because, for the time being, it had been decided that it was this group that would be at the bottom of the societal dung heap, as it were.
That's pretty much the course in/of human history in a nutshell. The Irish then did the same to the more recently arriving Italians, who did it to the fleeing European Jews, and so on and so on it goes.
It didn't take long for the immigrant Irish to realize their greater numbers were going to propel them forward in the game and people started to organize, both socially and politically. Their voting block, known as the "green machine," became an important political swing vote...and the rest is just more history.
In the late nineteeth century St. Patrick's Day parades and public celebrations were a clear show of strength for Irish Americans, and became must-attend events for political candidates who began to realize the trip to the top of the heap was going to have to include some Irish baby kissing.
In 1948, when President Truman attended New York City 's St. Patrick's Day parade, it was a verklempt moment for the Irish who had had to fight stereotypes and prejudice in order to gain a foothold and find acceptance in America.
I'm of the opinion the holiday is still representative of exactly that, a show of pride in heritage with a nod to Irish ancestors and traditions, and for the rest of us... a good excuse to party.
If our melting pot group here, made up of Americans hailing from all nations, is going to officially celebrate just ONE other nation annually --- I don't mind at all that it's Ireland.
I'm kind of happy we weren't swayed by the Germans or Italians to go with St. Wolfgang of Regensburg, or St. Gaudiosus of Naples. St. Patrick was already part of a roudy sort of Irish celebration in the old country and had some pretty fine party roots already.
In 1903, Saint Patrick's Day became an official public holiday in Ireland but apparently, the dude who put the holiday on the official map over there had some second thoughts about it. James P. O'Mara later sponsored a law requiring all pubs and public houses to close for the holiday, perhaps after it became clear (at least to those that voted) that perhaps Ireland's celebratory drinking had got out of hand (it wasn't law for the other 364 Saint's Days, eh. Draw your own conclusion).
In a clear demonstration of the good sense of the Irish, it was repealed in the 1970s and so now, the beer flows freely once again in the streets of Ireland for old St. Pat on March 17th.
Folks in America are also known to just love a good party, especially when there's the possiblity of a parade, street food, beer, and funny hats.
Those of us who can no longer claim celebrations directly connected with our own muddled heritage(s) tend - like the cuckoo bird - to take over those of others and make them our own. I chalk it up to the celebratory nature of America in general - any excuse will do - which explains "football season". And Christmas. (Don't get me started).
Aine, I hate to say it but for now, the way St. Patricks day is celebrated in the countries it's celebrated in, the day has evolved - or devolved depending on your perspective - into a secular celebration involving lots of beer and pub hopping, parades, green clothes,and even a green river or two (yes, some places put veggie dye into local town rivers, thus marking their St. Paddy's celebratory commitment).
Personally, I quietly go off to my local family owned Irish Pub for a pint, and the best corned beef, cabbage and glazed onions money can buy. It's celebration enough for me and my repressed English genes, but I enjoy watching the party around me, with the Irish music, some dancing, and little kids running around.
So rock on all ye lucky enough to claim a drop 'o' the Irish and share a pint to celebrate the heritage of our friends with roots in the owd sod, and feet in the new.