Updated Thursday, March 23, 12:48 pm*
I had the opportunity to attend, for the first time, the largest parade in the country*, the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade. While the shamrocks and leprechauns were on full display, what was more apparent was the celebration of multicultural pride. The police, soldiers, sailors, teachers, hospital workers — people from all walks of life and from all over the world, living or born in America — marched together to celebrate their community.
In a week that played out like another spinoff from the reality TV show that passes for politics, the Irish entered the arena. Capitol Hill kicked off the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with a message dressed in green ties, shamrocks, bad jokes, and dirty pints of Guinness (held by Paul Ryan), and the men who called themselves Irish proceeded to wax eloquently about their forebears with words and actions at odds with the immigrant experience.
You don’t pull the ladder up on women or children or sick and old people.
There is a long-understood sentiment that as you ascend and prosper, you help others, you bring others with you, you reach out. So to see the Mulvaneys and the Ryans, and Spicer (a Cork name, seemingly), rejoice in what the immigrant can achieve, touting stories of their grand-ancestors’ survival, and crowing — look, here, I am the man at the top, see me, I’m a great man — but be so blind to the reality of the experience, be so deaf to the irony of what they were doing one day with their harsh budget, and celebrating their heritage the next day — it was a head shaker for some of us Irish.
These Irish-American politicians like their carefully drawn narrative, but refuse to see the hypocrisy of slamming the door shut or cutting the funding to Americans living in poverty while enabling the wealthiest. They are prepared to betray the very story of their ancestors.
When Ireland’s leader, Enda Kenny, arrived last week for a meeting with the president, all the customs were observed: Shamrock bowl was presented, quotes were quoted, accents were polished, and when Enda got the microphone, he did something none of us were expecting, considering the majority of Irish didn’t even want him to attend the customary meeting — he spoke out.
With Trump at his side, he reminded everyone where they came from. He gave a raw and honest interpretation of the Irish immigrant experience in America, and for all immigrants, the poor, and the sick, it was the story of survival and contribution and building a country. And the message was clear.
You don’t pull the ladder up.
Lara O’Brien is a Vineyard author and regular Times contributor.
*An earlier version of this story stated that the New York York St. Patrick’s Day parade was the country’s oldest. It is not.
Enda Kenny’s full speech: irishtimes.com/news/politics/enda-kenny-s-st-patrick-s-day-white-house-speech-in-full-1.3016420