Last night I celebrated St. Patrick’s day the way St. Patrick intended: at a Karaoke bar. So perhaps that’s not the intention behind the holiday, but it was a joint St. Patrick’s Day/My Birthday party and it seemed the right thing to do. Besides, I’ve never been entirely sure what my responsibilities are as a man of Irish Heritage and a reformed Catholic when it comes to this “holiday.”
Growing up with a name like O’Keefe, people assumed that my family was Irish. And we are, in a manner of speaking. My Grandfather (Thomas O’Keefe) had two Irish parents: one literally off the boat from Ireland (a member of the Irish Navy) and the other a first generation Irish woman. Our “Irish-ness” however was limited to the obligatory corn beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s day and wearing green on the day. [The wearing green was rarely pulled off successfully once I was old enough to dress myself, I’m color blind and didn’t know it. I walked the halls of Eugene C. Auer Memorial Elementary School proudly wearing my green sweater on St. Patty’s Day, only to be later informed that it was blue.] We didn’t even drink like the infamous Irish. My father swore off booze when I was a wee one and mom only drank every once in a while – she was Italian and Canadian and did nothing in her drinking to bring shame to any of her forefathers or foremothers. I knew nothing about being Irish. I hated corn beef. I was never going to like cabbage. And the only consistent information about the Irish had to do with something dubbed “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and that, according to my dad, was nothing more than a bunch of lunatics blowing stuff up.
My perspective on my “Irish-ness” has changed quite a bit from my adolescence. I don’t proclaim to understand what it is to be “Irish” anymore than I understand what it is to be “part-Italian” or “somewhat Canadian” or rumor has it “a little Polish.” Hell I can’t even understand what it even means just “to be.” I do know that certain works of art: certain books and movies and plays and poems have helped me connect with the Irish heritage that I do have and I am fascinated by it. Moved by it. Puzzled by it – puzzled with the idea of learning who I am by examining where my ancestors came from. There is a romanticism about it – I know I have succumbed to that. I’ve read up on the troubles, about the IRA, about Michael Collins and Patrick Pearse. I am fascinated and moved by their stories and their troubles. I’ve gone so far to say “my dad said they were all lunatics, but if I were a young man in that time and place, I would have picked up a gun.” But that’s bullshit. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t, I’m saying that I can’t know that I would. I wasn’t in that time and place, I can neither accurately assess what I would do nor fairly judge what people are doing and I should thank God for that lack of actual perspective. Or perhaps I shouldn’t thank God since some people claim that he’s the one that caused all the trouble up in Northern Ireland to begin with. (But we know that’s true right? It’s not God so much as people using the idea of “God” to commit social, political and economical injustices upon each other).
None of this has anything to do with my singing Karaoke in the West Village last night. None of this really has anything to do with the thousands of drunk people stumbling around Manhattan, wearing and puking up green. And that’s what I wonder about St. Patrick’s day. What are we supposed to be celebrating? Are we celebrating the history of Ireland? It’s Celtic roots? Are we celebrating how Christianity came in and changed (destroyed?) the religious and social landscape of the Emerald Island? Are we celebrating the strength of a people rising up against an Imperialist Great Britain? Are we celebrating a rich history of literature and song and poetry? Or are we celebrating drinking green beer and Lucky Charms?
Last night I drank a wonderfully dry and crisp Japanese beer that was decidedly amber colored, it wasn’t even close to being green. And while I was out and about amidst thousands of St. Patty’s Day revelers, I didn’t give much thought to St. Patrick or the Celtic Cross or the “Troubles” in fact. What I did do is sing a whole lot of Karaoke with my friends. Mayhap that’s not a bad way to honor Ireland – reveling in the love and joy of friends, singing songs loud and proud without concern for pitch or tone, and having a couple of drinks – just a couple. At least I think its a good way to celebrate what I think about Ireland. But what do I know?