ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — For many, the highlight of Irish Heritage Month is St. Patrick’s day and the festivities accompanying the celebration of Irish culture. As festivalgoers dress in green, attend local parades, and indulge in corned beef, many may be surprised to discover that some of these popular traditions are not native to Ireland.
The first recording of a St. Patrick’s Day parade dates back to 1601. “In Ireland, we never celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with parades or dressing up in green,” said Elizabeth Stack, the Executive Director of the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany. “The earliest parade was actually held in Florida in 1601 in a Spanish colony.”
The parades became more of an annual tradition in the 1800s, but Stack says they grew in popularity in the 1930s in the U.S. in Boston and New York City. “Irish people back home love the parades, but even they might not be aware that it isn’t a tradition native to the homeland. It was an idea brought home by Irish troops.”
On St. Patrick’s Day, many restaurants will serve corned beef and cabbage, but Stack says corned beef wasn’t eaten in Ireland. “We would have fish dinners, or instead of corned beef, we would make boiled bacon. When Irish settlers came to America, the cheapest cut of meat was corned beef and it also tastes the closest to salty bacon. I never tasted corned beef and cabbage until I came here.”
Stack says there are other traditions or activities like making leprechaun traps that didn’t originate in Ireland. “Many things were invented here in America and later adopted back home,” said Stack. “The St. Patrick’s Day parades became more of a commodification of Irish culture.”
Despite their origins, Stack is happy to see these Irish traditions passed down to the next generation, especially since there has been concern about younger generations not having that connection to their history and homeland. In the monthly newsletter, the museum cites a survey published by The Irish Times. Out of those polled, only 11 percent of participants claimed to have studied Irish history or literature, and only 2 percent can speak Irish.
While those numbers are alarming, Stack is thankful that there is a large Irish presence in the Capital Region. “We have many Irish dance schools, an Irish language community, and even places where people can learn to play Irish cultural music. We even have an active Gaelic football team, the Albany Rebels, who travel for games around New York.”
Stack says the museum hosts events year-round but really appreciates Irish Heritage Month and being able to share Irish culture with more people around the world. “We are delighted by the highlight every March, and it is a time for us to celebrate our history. There is an increased desire in our local communities for Irish events this month, and while we are very busy, all of us put our best green foot forward.”