March is Irish-American Heritage Month, a chance for us to tip back a Guinness and contemplate the Irish blood that flows through the heart of America; From John F. Kennedy to Brad Pitt, some of the most famous, prolific, and influential Americans are of Irish descent. March is our opportunity to reflect upon this heritage, learn more about it, and celebrate what is a unique and brilliant strand of history.
History of Irish-American Heritage Month
Irish-American Heritage Month was first celebrated by proclamation of the President in 1991. It seemed natural to choose March (Saint Patrick’s Day falls on March 17) for the month-long recognition of the contributions that Irish immigrants and their descendants have made to U.S. society. Virtually every realm of American endeavor, from steelworking to biotechnology to literature, has seen improvement through Irish-descended hands and minds.
The tradition of the Presidential proclamation continues on a yearly basis, with the top political figure from Ireland, the “Taoiseach,” visiting to conduct a shamrock-giving ceremony at the Oval Office, followed in the evening by a reception attended by the President and other key figures of both governments.
Most people know the basic facts of the influx of Irish families to the shores of the United States during the 19th century, with the image of the Irish immigrant being conscripted into the Army minutes after stepping off the boat perhaps the most ingrained in the minds of former grade-school history students.
What is less talked about is the anti-immigrant sentiment that was often faced by new Irish-Americans, largely a result of their Catholicism, which clashed with the predominantly Protestant backgrounds of the majority of families whose members had been among the original colonists. Irish-Americans faced bitter competition, even slanted legislation, in their search for good jobs and a place to call home.
This month we recognize not only the overcoming of those obstacles by Irish-Americans but also the incredible breadth and depth of their contributions to American society, from the Union’s edge over the Confederacy in the Civil War to the intellectual contributions that have kept our country on the top tiers of accomplishment.