Irish Eyes are Smiling in America

Irish Eyes are Smiling in America

Written by Adrienne D. Berry, CP
March 2022

March is Irish American Heritage Month.

Irish American Heritage Month was first recognized by Congress in 1991. Like other heritage months, it was established to celebrate and honor Irish Americans and their contributions to America’s culture. It was recognized in March in conjunction with the national celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

On March 17th, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. An interesting fact is that St. Patrick is the patron saint for Ireland, for engineers, and for paralegals. St. Patrick lived from 385 to 461 AD in Britain and Ireland and was a man with deep faith who trusted God to do anything—even what seemed impossible.1 As I read the incredible story of his life and the miracles associated with him, it was easy to understand why he is considered the patron saint for paralegals. He was a man of strong faith, will, and patience. In our daily work, it is often commented that paralegals make the impossible possible. Paralegals use strong skills of multitasking, exhibiting patience in dealing with clients and attorneys, and making things happen with our extraordinary abilities. And we have all seen the memes of a paralegal described as a “magician.”

In celebrating this month, here are some additional interesting historical facts:
“Four signatories of the Declaration of Independence were Irish born, and nine others were of Irish descent.”

“The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held March 17, 1762, in New York City, featuring Irish soldiers in the English Army.”2

Everyone is familiar with St. Patrick’s Day, but can you say you are familiar with a famous Irish song and phrase?

“When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” is a song that is tied to the history and evolving opinion towards Irish immigrants in America between 1840 and 1900.

Irish ballads and ditties were hugely popular around the turn of the century, and the three writers did not let a little thing like lack of Irish ancestry get in their way when there was such a huge market for Irish music.

During the 1840s, Irish immigration to America increased exponentially due to the Irish Potato Famine. Between 1846 and 1855, nearly 1.5 million Irish people came to the U.S. The increase in the number of poor and uneducated Irish immigrants in the country made many Americans lash out with “no Irish need apply” signs and cartoons portraying the Irish in ugly, stereotypical ways. Catholic churches weren’t spared and were often targets of violence. Over the course of the 19th century, attitudes toward the Irish slowly evolved. The economic position of the Irish gradually improved, and the Irish grew politically more powerful in cities like New York and Boston. If anti-Irish sentiments persisted, by this time it was aimed at the strength and not the weakness of the Irish. With this larger acceptance of Irish Americans, the commercial popularity of Irish songs increased.3

America’s history is woven with so many cultures. A blend of people, ideas, and ways of life that have come together to create our unique nation. In learning about each heritage celebrated monthly, we gain an appreciation for the diverse background of all the different cultures and how they have influenced how we celebrate. So, in this month when you plan your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, maybe find the 1944 movie which includes that famous song, and maybe your eyes will smile as well. Also, look up the story of St. Patrick and draw on some inspiration from his life of commitment, diligence, faith, and patience in what he was doing for the greater good.