Irish Up

Brian Slattery PhotoOn Sunday at 1:30 p.m., on the corner of College and Chapel, before New Haven’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade arrived, a small crowd of people were banging on the outside of a port-a-john and screaming while someone else was in there.

A couple blocks away, near the corner of Chapel and York, two small kids — one South Asian and one white — chased each other across the pavement of the street, thrilled at the novelty that it was closed, while an audience made up of people from all over the world lined the sides of the street two or three rows deep, smiling, chatting, expectant.

In only a half hour, the event managed to show me, as an Irish-American, both what I hate and what I love about St. Patrick’s Day.

At the parade, as one overheard spectator put it, “everyone gets to be Irish for a day.”  To get the hate part out of the way —  what that seems to mean for a lot of people is to get plastered.

“Thanks for the stereotype,” I think to myself.

I’m not dry by any means. Especially when it’s still cold out, my go-to drink is a whiskey and ginger, in honor of my grandmother, whose drink that was. But the idea that being so drunk you can’t stand up is a prerequisite for being Irish is toxic and destructive. A couple people on the Irish side of my own huge, beautiful extended family have been wrecked by alcoholism. I’ve seen what it can do. Getting super-wasted isn’t something I think is funny, at all.

But I’m also all in favor of people having fun. And Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade was, above all, a lot of fun for a lot of people.

At Park and Chapel, a recording of a penny whistle blended in the air with the calls of vuvuzelas and rising voices.

At Dwight and Chapel, kids playing in the street first danced in front, then scurried out of the way of the line of police motorcycles that marked the front of the parade. The biker club members who’d parked in front of Barracuda were all smiling and having a good time. One of them had painted his beard a bright green while another of them hoisted his little daughter onto his shoulder so she could get a better look.

“Yeah, Hillhouse!” said an elderly gentleman in a cap as Hillhouse High’s marching band passed.

Members of he Joseph A. Ferko String Band —  a troupe of mummers from Philadelphia —  delighted the crowd with their music and their costumes. Several people stopped them to ask if they could have their pictures taken with them, and they obliged.

Near Chapel and High, as band after band played, a young musician in training played back.

At the bottom of the Green, the Funky Dawgs Brass Band gave the crowd a taste of something from farther south.

The Fusion Steppers Drill Team and Drum Line rocked the block.

The Nation Drill Team brought the energy to City Hall.

Back at Chapel and College, Anh (AJ) Nguyen, dressed as a green-tinted Flava Flav, added his own percussion to the bands passing by. “I love supporting,” he said, and had come to the parade more times than he could remember.

“Every year it has to be different,” he said of his costume.

The clock was “a new add-on,” he said. “Anything to make a scene.”

Also, “the wig matches my natural hair,” he joked. And “I need more people with cowbells next year! I shouldn’t be the only one.”

A man in the parade, part of a drum and fife corps, agreed. “Give me that cowbell!” he said to Nguyen as he passed.

Across the street, labor organizer Danny Ravizza and Michael Lee-Murphy, a staff writer for Connecticut Magazine, unfurled a banner that read “No Borders In Ireland.” They were there to call attention to the newly fractious border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, as Ireland remains in the European Union and Northern Ireland is slated to leave it with the rest of the United Kingdom.

“The British government is stumbling backward in the repartitioning of Ireland,” Lee-Murphy said. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which formally ended the conflict in Northern Ireland. Brexit “risks militarizing that border and damaging 20 years of hard-won peace.”

Both agreed that, on a day that celebrates the legacy of the Irish in America, it was important to remind people of the high-stakes politics being played out in Ireland itself.

“We’re railing against the invisible lines that divide us,” Ravizza said.

Bicycles —  many of them from Bike New Haven —  made a strong appearance at the parade, as riders delivered cascading rows of high-fives to people standing at the curbs.

At the south end of the Green, Brandon J. (at right in photo) and friends had likewise decked themselves out in green. (“I’m 8,000 percent Irish today,” one of them said.) Born and raised in New Haven, Brandon J. came to the parade every year — “all my life.”

“I wanted to show my Irish roots,” he said.

What kept him coming back, year after year? “The festivities,” he said, were “still fun.”

It all reminded me of what I love about St. Patrick’s Day — and what’s important about it. Irish-Americans come in all political stripes, and that’s as it should be. What’s a family gathering without a little talk about politics?

But regardless, I think of being pro-immigration — unlike being drunk — as actually being a prerequisite for being Irish-American, to the point that I think Mick Mulvaney and the other Irish-Americans currently working for and with the Trump administration need to turn in their I-A cards yesterday. They’re free to believe whatever they want, but they have forgotten where they came from. They have forgotten who they are.

The story of Irish immigration to America makes us Irish-Americans the pace car for other immigrants who arrive in America with nothing and find their way into American society without ever fully losing their sense of their roots. It’s a big part of why I don’t just support, but am proud of, New Haven’s status as a sanctuary city. It’s why I love seeing people from all over come out for the parade, and make parts of Irish-American identity their own. My Irish-American family taught me to define family as broadly as possible, to let everyone in, to never shut the door behind you. We have a country to build.

It was beautiful and fitting to me to see marching bands, brass bands, Irish bands, DJs, and people on bikes with vuvuzelas pass by the sign near City Hall enjoining everyone to “play Irish tunes” by continuing to play whatever it was they were playing when they rounded the corner of Chapel and Church and started heading north. It was just as that spectator had said: Everyone gets to be Irish today.

As the parade wound down, College and Crown streets lit up. The bars filled with parade-goers, and when they were full, the streets, porches, and verandahs filled also, whether under heaters or not.

A small dance party started on the sidewalk outside Olives and Oil, which I loved.

Toward the end of the afternoon, though, sure enough, some people started stumbling around, clearly not in control of themselves. Someone lay down on the concrete steps off College Street heading up to Brother Jimmy’s, and two friends sat with him. A couple people started arguing, talking slower and louder than anyone sober does, and just like that, there were those old mixed feelings again.


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posted by: narcan on March 12, 2018  12:49am

Being against illegal border jumping is still pro-immigration. My Irish card will remain firmly in hand.

Way to ruin a nice puff piece with political tripe.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 12, 2018  7:25am

Sad.Knee-Grows with Green Hats,Shamrocks on there faces,Holding Irish Flags and marching in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New Haven.I bet these are the same Knee-Grows who would not hold the RED Black and Green Flag and will tell you I am not African.Now there are Black Irish Jamaicans and Black Irish who live in Montserrat . But I bet the major of these Knee-Grows are not Black Irish Jamaicans and Black Irish who are from Montserrat.

Now this is a Black Irish St Patricks Day Parade from Montserrat.

So How many of you Knee-Grows in these pictures are Black Irish Jamaicans and Black Irish who are from Montserrat.

posted by: LookOut on March 12, 2018  7:45am

Thank you @narcan.  I am also very pro-immigration and anti-illegals sneaking in and making it worse for everyone.  Too many people (including this author apparently) can not or will not differentiate between the immigration that has been the foundation of this country and the lawlessness of ‘anything goes’ that endangers law abiding citizens.

posted by: alphabravocharlie on March 12, 2018  8:41am

Another one who conflates legal and illegal immigration. One can be pro legal and anti illegal immigration while being pro immigration. How many people can this country absorb? Open borders are not the answer.

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on March 12, 2018  9:12am

Could you not have simply reported on the parade and how amazing the day was?

Why take this political turn?

Looking at the comments pouring in, I am not alone with feeling that this read was, well, off.

Yesterday was lovely,  a proud moment for New Haven.

Weather, People, Energy: I could not be happier with how well it all turned out!

Maybe it’s because no one talked politics and we all had a GOOD TIME as a community.

posted by: Atwater on March 12, 2018  9:26am

Open borders are the answer. They’re the future, get ready for it. The times they are a changing.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 12, 2018  9:52am

“How many people can this country absorb?”

A lot. The percentage of residents who are foreign born has been rising ever since Hart-Celler in 1965, and has been rising precipitously since the late 80s and early 90s, and surprise, everything hasn’t fallen apart.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on March 12, 2018  10:13am

About 40% of immigrants who are currently here illegally entered the country legally and overstayed their visas. This was also a common phenomenon among Irish immigrants in the 20th century.  This was a major impetus for the lottery visas, sponsored by the Irish-American Congressman Bruce Morrison.

Like most Irish-Americans, my ancestors came over in the mid 19th century, when the U.S. had open borders. Somehow, the country withstood the onslaught of the McCarthys, Carrolls, Dohertys, etc. I suspect that will also be the case for the undocumented Garcias, Rodriquezes, Riveras, etc.

posted by: Fairhavener on March 12, 2018  10:57am

To the folks offended about being called out on their anti-immigrant sentiment, I ask a question: what if the Irish potato famine had happened today?

I am asking a question that addresses migration for economic opportunity.

posted by: flash_demo on March 12, 2018  11:37am

@THREEFIFTHS. Negro, please! This is what makes New Haven a wonderful city—a mixture of cultures co-existing and celebrating one another.

posted by: 1644 on March 12, 2018  11:53am

Fairhavener:  We have had many crop failures throughout the world similar to the potato blight.  Unlike the 19th century, though,  we have massive international aid schemes today, schemes which did not exist in the 1840’s. One of the great tragedies of the Irish famine was that, while the UK could have provided more relief, it didn’t.

posted by: robn on March 12, 2018  11:55am

I think we’re starting to see dividends from the “don’t get stinking drunk and act like an idiot” policy that the NHPD adopted a few years ago. Still a good time and family friendly.

posted by: Atwater on March 12, 2018  12:46pm

@1664: The English caused the potato famine in Ireland, they didn’t want to help. It was a genocide. And as for the international aid schemes that exist today. They’re a joke, just ask the people in Syria, Yemen, Sundan, etc.

Open borders!! Erin Go Bragh!!!

posted by: NewHaven18 on March 12, 2018  1:41pm

These hoodlums blocking the street and celebrating immigrant values prevented me (a law-abiding citizen) from getting to work! It is outstanding that they were not all arrested on the spot!

...wait, wrong article.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on March 12, 2018  3:59pm

posted by: flash_demo on March 12, 2018 12:37pm
@THREEFIFTHS. Negro, please! This is what makes New Haven a wonderful city—a mixture of cultures co-existing and celebrating one another.

A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture,

Malcolm X


posted by: alphabravocharlie on March 12, 2018  9:42pm

People on visas are not immigrants, they’re visitors. When they overstay their visas, their presence is illegal. They need to be found and returned to their countries. There are 7 billion people in the world. How many can we let in?

posted by: JCFremont on March 13, 2018  7:09am

I’m surprised there hasn’t been a call for the end of this parade, after all the Irish may have been an imigriant minority at one time or in today’s vernacular, victims, but today, really their just another “Whitey.”

posted by: RobotShlomo on March 14, 2018  10:42am

This is semi-related (as the Irish pubs / bars do gangbusters on Parade Day), but does anyone know why Trinity on Orange Street still isn’t open yet? Was the fire damage worse than originally thought?

I’m surprised there hasn’t been a call for the end of this parade, after all the Irish may have been an immigrant minority at one time or in today’s vernacular, victims, but today, really their just another “Whitey.”

I had the sneaking suspicion that city pulling funding for police overtime during the parade, was stealth attempt at cancelling it.