Beyond The Beers: St. Patrick’s Day holds significance for Irish-Americans

On St. Patrick’s Day, happy partygoers wore green, sang songs and drank beer. But it wasn’t just Irish who were smiling. From Ireland to America and back again, the feast day of the patron saint of the Emerald Isle has morphed into a general celebration of all things Irish.

Aspects of the Irish cultural identity appeal to English professor Christine Harker. Harker became involved in Irish dance and music during graduate school in Los Angeles through association with a group of Irish expatriates.

“It’s still a culture of participation instead of a culture of performance, and that’s a really big change [from modern American culture],” said Harker.

Harker lamented the fact that, while the culture of participation is still prevalent in Ireland today, it seems to have been lost in America. Rather, music and dance are generally oriented toward performance.

“It’s such a different thing if you’re not thinking about, ‘How will I look? Will people admire me?’ but more like, ‘I’m doing it because it’s fun,’” Harker said. “And I thought it’s really a shame that we have largely lost that as a culture, and it’s still totally the norm, even in urban Ireland today.”

While the authenticity of the American St. Patrick’s Day is arguable, it remains less commodified in Ireland. Harker said St. Patrick’s Day in its country of origin does not have as many of the external trappings it does in America.

“An awful lot of Irish people I know, they don’t wear green on any particular day, and it’s not critical to be, ‘St. Pat’s, I’d better wear green stuff,’ because it’s not at stake for them,” Harker said. “They know that they’re Irish and they’re fully Irish. They don’t need to sort of put on any show.”


For more information about St. Patrick’s Day, pick up a copy of The Index on Thursday, March 22.