Commentary: St. Patrick’s Day: A Reflection

I have long been proud of my Irish lineage. So much in fact, I even married an O’Bannon, just to make sure my children knew of their heritage and could proudly continue it. So on St. Patrick’s Day, while many think of Guinness Beer, Leprechauns and Pots of Gold, my family always reflected on the long struggle for freedom, the pursuit of liberty, and the importance of a good education by the Irish.

It was that desire for freedom, education and the wish to control their own destiny that so many Irish left Ireland. Ronald Reagan said: “So many Irish men and women from every walk of life played a role in creating the dream of America.” Many of them, including my relatives, came here to the United States. They left behind a nation yearning to be free.

How many Irish children were sent by a boat to a New World, never to be seen again by their families in Ireland, for the liberty offered in America? It is no wonder that James Joyce described the Atlantic Ocean as a bowl of bitter tears and an earlier poet wrote, “They are going, going, going and we cannot bid them stay.” In fact, Robert Kennedy argued that “Ireland’s chief export has been neither potatoes nor linen, but exiles and immigrants who have fought with sword and pen for freedom around the earth.”

Reflecting on the Irish and education, it was the monasteries of Ireland that kept classical knowledge alive when most of Europe was in decay. John F. Kennedy in a speech about Ireland said: “No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of independence in America, indeed, around the world. And no larger nation has ever provided the world with more literary and artistic genius.”

Today the sword and pen have been sometimes forgotten in our quest for freedom. An Irish proverb counsels us: that a scholar’s ink lasts longer than a martyr’s blood. It is why education is so important for the Irish in America. However, today too many people spew hatred and anger. We have forgotten lessons we learned of kindness, forgiveness and working toward a better world for ourselves and our children.

No state government, no board of education and certainly no supervisor can put a price tag on a teacher’s positive influence on a child. We simply cannot put a price tag when we recognize our own talents and can find ways to serve others by using them. What other profession but that of educator allows us, in the words of Robert Fulgham, “to learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some?”

President Kennedy referenced George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up the Irish approach to life: Other people, he said, “see things and… say: ‘Why?’ … But I dream things that never were-and I say: ‘Why not?'”

As a son of St. Patrick, it is important to remember we are still a country of dreamers. We may have different religious and political persuasions, but we are linked by shared necessities and joint aspirations. Education is the key equalizer. The Irish have a saying: “Wisdom is what makes a poor man a king, a weak person powerful, a good generation of a bad one, a foolish man reasonable.”

Irish men and women proud of their heritage can be found in every walk of life. To all, the Irish and non-Irish alike, this St. Patrick’s Day I say: Dia libh go leir (God be with you all). Éirinn go Brách. God Bless America. God Bless Our Teachers!

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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