(NNPA)—St. Patrick’s Day has its rituals, but one that is not considered is any discussion of race.
Having grown up in the Northeast, I am used to the St. Patrick’s Day parades, the celebration of Ireland, and, sometimes, the demand for a united Ireland. What is generally missing from discussions during this time period is anything having to do with race. Yet race is a central factor for both Ireland and, ironically, Irish Americans.
The manner in which we understand “race” today is directly related to the English conquest of Ireland in the 1500s. The English introduced a form of oppression of the indigenous people that ended up being very effective. They expropriated their lands, crushed their religion, totally eliminated their ruling class, and instituted a form of colonial rule through which the native Irish were defined in law and custom as inferior. The English defined themselves as a superior “race” compared with the indigenous Irish. And they proceeded to keep Ireland as a colony until the 1920s, and have kept the northern part of Ireland (the six counties) colonized to this day.
In order to guarantee their domination of Ireland, the English sent in settlers from England, Scotland and Wales, giving them the best land and privileging them over the native Irish. The settlers, whether rich or poor, in a pattern that became familiar in other parts of the world as colonialism spread, were always in a superior position to the native Irish. For all intents and purposes, the Irish had no rights that the settlers were bound to respect.