English Professor shares unique perspective on Irish culture

By Katelyn Snyder



Since the 1700s, St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in America but few know of the holiday’s humble beginnings in Ireland. America has adopted St. Patrick’s Day and effected the celebration of this holiday.

“The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston, not in Ireland, and so the celebrations as we know them really had their beginning in Irish-American communities more so than in Irish communities,” said Christine Cusick, English professor at Seton Hill University.

The parades and lavish traditions of St. Patrick’s Day are mostly an American tradition, though it has been spread to the larger cities in Ireland, mostly for the sake of tourism.

“Historically, [St. Patrick’s Day] was primarily a religious holiday,” Cusick said, a granddaughter of a traditional Irish-American.  The pubs were closed; families went to mass and then often to relatives’ houses for a meal or to parks for walks,” said Cusick.

This highlights one of the main differences between American and Irish culture – the emphasis on community.

“People value conversation and they really listen to one another with sincerity and interest,” said Cusick.

“There is a lot of talk of pub culture in Ireland. The pub is a vibrant part of Irish life.  The pub is not like an American bar, though.   Above all else, it is a place for people to see friends and family, have conversations, tell stories, play and listen to music.”

Whereas American bars focus on alcohol.

Despite the differences in Irish culture, Americans have still clung to St. Patrick’s Day and parts of Irish culture.

“The Irish diaspora has certainly had a powerful influence in America, but so have other immigrant groups,” said Cusick. “Many people are interested in honoring Irish music and culture celebrate the day as a way of remembering family and traditions that are dear to them.”

Cusick realizes that all of America does not fall into the former category, and that many celebrate for the sake of celebration.

“I guess sometimes I regret this because I feel like the rich and textured culture of Ireland gets lost in the sea of shamrocks and green beer.   There is so much more to appreciate about Ireland,” Cusick said.

Cusick appreciates the memories she has of her Irish upbringing and her experience with true Irish culture. “Irish culture and celebrations are always connected to family, whether it was my Mom baking soda bread or the cup of strong black tea we shared every night . . . Even though I was young, I still remember my grandmother playing the accordion or listening to the “Irish hour” on the radio,” Cusick said.

Cusick’s memories and admiration for the Irish community in which she was raised fuel her desire to study, and share her knowledge of Irish culture and literature.

“I try to honor [my Irish family and neighbors’] lives and history by studying Irish literature and by writing my own narratives, but their stories will always be the most powerful ones I’ve heard.”


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