During the month of March, not only do we celebrate the holiday St. Patrick’s Day, but the entire month is actually Irish-American Heritage Month. The monthly celebration is an event sanctioned by the United States government as a way to honor the achievements and contributions of Irish immigrants and their descendants.
St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday that is dedicated to the saint who brought Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. In modern days, the holiday has evolved into a celebration that is all things Irish. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade occurred on March 17, 1762 in New York City. It featured Irish soldiers of the British military serving to protect the Colonies during the French and Indian War.
Almost 200 years later, President Harry S. Truman personally attended the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade. President Truman himself was of Scottish and Irish descent and even gave a speech at the parade. Another proud moment for the Irish was the election of President John F. Kennedy, America’s very first Irish-Catholic President in 1961. President Kennedy also attended the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Some of the most famous Irish-Americans are:
- James Cagney (1904-1986): Actor whose Oscar-winning role in 1942 was in Yankee Doodle Dandy
- Buffalo Bill Cody (1846-1917): Western scout and showman
- Dorothy Day (1891-1980): Journalist and peace activist; founder of the Catholic Worker movement
- Grace Kelly (1928-1982): Film and stage actress, who won an Oscar for The Country Girl, she was also Princess Grace of Monaco
Irish-American Heritage Month Gets Official
As a way to thank all Irish-Americans for their vital contributions to the nation, Congress designated the month of March to celebrating Irish heritage. The first Congressional dedication of the month occurred in 1991; however, Congress again decided to dedicate the month to Irish heritage in 1995 and 1996. Using Executive Privilege, each President of the United States has also chosen to proclaim March as Irish-American Heritage month each year since 1991.
Washington Celebrates Irish Heritage in March
Each year in March, the head of the Irish government or prime minister of Ireland, known as the Taoiseach, visits the United States to honor Saint Patrick’s Day. During the morning, a Shamrock Ceremony is performed in the Oval Office at the White House. A crystal bowl containing the traditional symbol of Ireland is presented to the current President of the United States. It is followed by a luncheon in the U.S. Capitol or the Rayburn House Office Building. The luncheon is for the Friends of Ireland and is hosted by the Speaker of the House. In attendance is the President, Vice President, Taoiseach, Speaker of the House and various other political figures. Closing the day out, a St. Patrick’s Day Reception is held at the White House.