Thank me—I’m Irish

Carrie Pavlin is a Sacramento freelance writer of Irish heritage

Every March 17, the whole world becomes Irish. St. Patrick’s Day, originally a Catholic holy day, has evolved into a huge party commonly known for beer-drinking, occasional friendly fistfights and the wearing of green. Even those whose forefathers never set foot on the Emerald Isle will be included if they’re wearing the right colors or buying a round of Guinness. By the time the sun rises on the morning of March 18, most will be well on their way to forgetting about St. Paddy and his Irish kin.

But take a minute to think about what the Irish have contributed to America: a lot more than just an excuse to run up your bar tab.

By 1850, a million Americans were actually Irish settlers, and thousands worked on building the railroads in the United States. Some established themselves as farmers along the routes they had helped to develop, naming new counties after old Irish ones, left behind but not forgotten.

John Downey was an Irish settler who later became the governor of California. William Grace, another Irishman fresh off the boat, ran a steamship company before becoming mayor of New York City. Eleven presidents were definitely of Irish descent, and eight more claimed that heritage, though it was harder to prove. Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt both had family from County Antrim; Ulysses S. Grant and Woodrow Wilson got their bloodlines from County Tyrone.

Modern journalism owes its roots to the Irish, including John Dunlap, who printed the first daily newspaper in the United States, and Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune. Col. Robert R. McCormick, proprietor of the Chicago Tribune, and Harold Wallace Ross, founder of the New Yorker, both had Irish blood in their veins. Edgar Allan Poe was of Scots Irish descent, as was financier Andrew Mellon. Robert Fulton, pioneer of the steam boat; Samuel Morse, inventor of Morse code; and Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaping machine, each had ancestors from Ulster.

My grandfather’s brother still lives in New Limerick, Maine, farming potatoes with the rest of our family. They speak with an accent more reminiscent of Ireland than of the East Coast. Mindful of that family, our heritage and our accomplishments, I will be out on St. Patrick’s Day, beer in hand, celebrating with the rest. We Irish have a lot to be proud of.