Sunday, March 15, 2015

Steps Taken

Greetings All:

I have been a bit AWOL from my blog over the last two weeks.  I have been taking classes at night for the last three weeks and have not had the motivation to publish any posts.  (I have several in the works, but nothing completed, until now.)

Yesterday was "The Grand Parade" in Davenport.  Like many cities, we have a St. Patrick's Day parade.  However, we are the only place that has a bi-state parade.  Thanks to our proximity to the Mississippi River and a robust group of Irish (and Irish for a day) residents of the cities that hug the river, we have a two-city, two-state parade.  (Although I live in Bettendorf now, Davenport is my hometown and for parade purposes, this parade belongs to all of us.)  I am particularly proud that our area came in third for American cities that celebrate St. Patrick's Day.  I think (bias acknowledged) we've earned this recognition.

St. Patrick's Day is a celebration of all things Irish.  The fact that it coincides with the arrival of spring makes it even better.  This is a fun event.  Lots of folks participate and from what I saw from my vantage point was a group of well-behaved folks.  (And yes, I did happen to see a one or maybe two people enjoying what might have been an adult beverage.)

It might be hard to believe that there was a time in this nation when being Irish was not something non-Irish would celebrate.  There was plenty of discrimination.  Some did not like the Irish for religious reasons.  Others viewed them as lazy or habitual drinkers.  Still others viewed their large families and larger clans as something to be feared.  The sign below is one that was sadly all too common at one time in our nation.  

A sign from the past, date late 19th/early 20th century, public domain

So as my youngest daughter and I watched the parade, I felt a surge of pride go through me when I saw so many people enjoying the day.  My daughter was more concerned with candy and beads.  Fair enough.  After all, she's only eight.  In time she will learn about her heritage inherited from me through my Mom, Catherine Bridget O'Neill Berta.  When she does, I hope she will think, at least briefly, of the statute in the picture opening this blog.

I was coming back from court the other day and I stopped to take a picture of it.  I have a link to the St. Patrick's Society's website that gives some history of it.  Here's what I see when I look it.

I see a family of Irish immigrants arriving in a new land.  A place of hope and promise, yet also one of struggle.  One where not everyone would be welcoming, more likely hostile.  I see a woman grieving for what was left behind.  I see a man determined to break free from the poverty, hunger, and near-slavery that was his life and that of his fathers.  I see a child, full of wonder at this new place.  If she only knew what hardships awaited.  

They, this family, are walking, moving forward, taking steps.  It was their courage to take these steps.  Steps that began with boarding a steerage ship (called coffin ships by some for those who died on a rough passage).  Steps that continued through Ellis Island or other points of entry.  Steps that brought them through their first winter and the snow that came with it.  Steps that caused them to climb high into the tenements where they lived, if you could call it that.  

They took other steps.  They stepped on ladders as flames singed their face as fire-fighters.  They stepped together first on a parade field and then on a battlefield as members of their adopted country's army.  They stepped across a platform to receive degrees as college graduates.  They stepped across the foyer of small homes bought with savings and paid for by countless hours worked in the factories and mills.  For about two centuries, they Irish came, and they kept stepping forward.

For many Irish the biggest step was when a man stepped forward to a microphone on a bitterly cold day, January 20, 1961, to be precise.  He was there to give a speech.  It was hailed as one of the greatest speeches in American history, remembered largely for these immortal words, "Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country."  That man was John F. Kennedy, American's first President of Irish decent.    How far had a people come.  How far indeed.

As the parade concluded on Saturday, I thought of all the people walking that day.  I cannot help but conclude that none of this would have been possible had simple, poor, brave, dignified, scared, hopeful, loving, angry, generous, brawling, artistic people had not taken their steps those many years ago.

A bheith go maith le mo chairde,


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