One St. Patrick’s Day when I was a little girl, my mother stopped me as I headed off to school dressed in green. She told me that that bit of Irish in my ethnic stew wasn’t “green Irish,” but “orange Irish.” “Orange Irish,” she explained, was bad and I should never tell anyone.
Over time I would learn that “Orange Irish” meant I was descended from Protestants and British occupiers. I may have been the only 7 year old in Queens who watched documentaries about British soldiers and “Orangemen” shooting Belfast children with rubber bullets.
Much about Irish history is sanitized and distorted for public consumption. In the U.S., we believe the myth of the famine. It goes something like this: Irish farmers became (implicitly, through some fault of their own) too dependent on the potato as a food crop and when the crop was hit by disease (the “blight”), the Irish starved. Many Americans of Irish descent attribute their family’s emigration to the famine.
So for St. Patrick’s Day, I bring you an invitation to learn about what really happened to the Catholic Irish as a result of British occupation. And to help with this, here is Sinead O’Connor’s rap about the famine.