Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I'm going to touch on the Lake George theme, but focus today on some American Irish history, something warm for my NYC friends to think about as we walk home tonight through the puke of a thousand tourist fratty assholes.

The first 200 or so years of colonial American history are filled with a lot of religious tension. The reformation was still fairly young, and sentiment toward Catholics among settlers was strongly negative. The ill feelings had tempered since the publication of the Geneva bible (a mere 60 years before the establishment of the Plymouth colony), a time when it was widely believed among protestants that the end times were near and that the pope himself was the anti-christ. James the First had replaced the Geneva Bible with, of course, the King James version, and established diplomatic relations with a number of Catholic countries (Puritans and Puritanism in Europe and America By Tom Webster, page 304). But the Puritans, being “the hotter sort of protestants,” (Webster, 305), maintained the belief that the Pope was the Antichrist.
The Pope and Catholics in general were the embodiment of evil in the eyes of the Puritans, and the French and their Native American allies were agents of the devil, attacking the godly New England colonies.
But in non-Puritan English colonies (Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina), Catholicism was tolerated among Irish settlers, who formed largely forgotten and often unfairly maligned settlements of their own on the frontiers of the east coast. (The Scotch-Irish in America, by the Scotch-Irish Society of America, 1901).

The French and Indian war, however, brought tensions between Irish Catholic settlers, subjects in an English colony, and their protestant government to a head. Irish men were drafted to fight along side Englishmen who considered their faith to be evil and, in some colonies, illegal. Some Irish soldiers moved to Canada of their own free will and joined the Catholic French army, while others chose to remain in Canada and fight for the French after capture. Therefore both the French and English had Irish battalions. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, by Charles George Herbermann, page 148).

Many Irish remained thereafter in the province of Quebec, and that is why my maiden name is Barry.

Relations between English and Irish soldiers fighting on the same side however could easily be improved with the employment of alcohol. On St. Patrick’s Day in 1757, the Irish soldiers at Fort William Henry on Lake George “were paying homage to their patron saint in libations of heretic rum, the product of New England stills; and it is said that John Stark’s Rangers forgot theological differences in their zeal to share the festivity. The story adds that they were restrained by their commander, and that their enforced sobriety proved the saving of the fort. This may be doubted; for without counting the English soldiers of the garrison who had no special call to be drunk that day, the fort was in no danger until twenty-four hours after, when the revelers [sic] had had time to rally from their pious carouse.” (Montcalm and Wolfe, by Francis Parkman, 1884). Parkman fairly revises the telling of the story, which implies that the drunken Irish could have been responsible for the downfall of the fort, had a good English officer not stepped in and kept them from being a bad influence.

The Fort was not taken on March 18, 1757, the attack being thwarted by responsible, sober watchmen who heard the French troops coming across the ice in the night.

St. Patrick’s day was also used by the British army to recruit Irish immigrants during the revolutionary war. In New York City in 1779, Catholic “Volunteer” soldiers marched to the Bowery for a St. Patrick’s day feast in an effort to encourage Irish enlistment (The Wearing of the Green, by Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair, 2006, page 11).

I’m going to continue to research this as I know very little about the Irish presence in America before the great migrations of the 19th century.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Don't die in a boating accident!

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