March 19, 2021
This week was St. Patrick’s Day, but I didn’t wear green to celebrate like I usually do. I’ve always worn green even though I’ve always known that my ancestors weren’t Irish. Even as a child, I knew that we were Scandinavian and English. But, when I was a child, everyone celebrated St. Patrick’s Day – Irish or not. In school we colored shamrocks and decorated our classroom. Usually we planned a party with green frosted cookies or cupcakes.
On the big day everyone wore green. In fact, if you didn’t the rule was that anyone could pinch you. The only caveat was that if someone thought you weren’t wearing green and you really were, you could pinch the pincher back ten times. As we grew older, many of us tried to fool the other kids by wearing green socks or a green barrette that wouldn’t be noticeable. This led to lots of squealing and chasing during recess as roving groups of students tried to spy out non-green wearers and give them a pinch. This was often followed by further yelling and running when it turned out some of the pinch victims really were wearing green.
I’m sure no one celebrates St. Patrick’s Day that way anymore, for obvious reasons. I remember the whole thing as being fun, but I’m sure it wasn’t for the poor child who didn’t have anything green to wear or whose parents wouldn’t or couldn’t help them figure out something green. However, that early indoctrination has caused me to automatically choose to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day ever since. That is until this year.
Thanks to Covid, I stay home most days so it wouldn’t really have mattered what color I wore, but Wednesday was grocery shopping day. As I headed out, I started to grab a green jacket but noticed my orange coat right behind it. Great way to celebrate my own heritage, I thought as I put it on.
That’s because in recent years my genealogy trail has led to Ireland. But not “that” Ireland – the one of Roman Catholics and St. Patrick and leprechauns. Instead, my path has led to Ulster, or Northern Ireland, where my ancestors settled for several hundred years before immigrating to Canada in the 1820s. I’m still not sure whether they were originally from Scotland or from England, but they were Protestants and may have arrived in Ireland as early as the 1600s. As such, saints wouldn’t have been important to them.
Instead, many of them were Orangemen, a Protestant fraternal organization. It was named for William of Orange who defeated the Roman Catholic King James II of England at the Battle of Boyne in 1690. Although Orange was actually a place, the color itself became representative of Protestants in Ireland. That tradition has continued to the present. The Irish flag contains both green and orange to symbolize both Roman Catholics and Protestants.
I’m sure no one at King Sooper’s noticed my orange coat on St. Patrick’s Day or noted its symbolism. As a descendant of those “other” Irish, I know that popular culture tends to overlook our heritage. Whether anyone else knew it or not, my coat was a nod to my ancestry. I enjoyed thinking about them on St. Patrick’s Day this year. Maybe I’ll do it again next year as a small way to honor my heritage.
Happy Belated St. Patrick’s Day, whether you’re Irish or not.
Researcher/Director at Large