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St. Patrick's Day celebrations and the formation of Irish-American identity, 1845-1875.


On the morning of St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1853, Archbishop John Hughes delivered an oration on the significance of the occasion before a crowd of worshipers at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Hughes dwelt on Saint Patrick's success in converting "a pagan into a Christian nation" which had since zealously maintained and propagated Catholic doctrines despite extraordinary misery and oppression. Turning to the condition of the Irish immigrant community in America, he sought spiritual value in the immigrants' famine-induced emigration from Catholic Ireland: "But the very misfortunes of a temporal kind that have fallen on Ireland have sent forth the children of that unhappy land to every clime and to every latitude, from the north to the south pole; and wherever they are found ... not only do they cherish fond memory for the apostle of their native land, but they propagate it, and make the infection as if it were contagious, so that those who would not otherwise have had any knowledge of St. Patrick become thus desirous to enter into those feelings, and to join in celebrating the anniversary festival of the apostle of Ireland."(1)

That same morning, several thousand Irish-American men, arranged in armed military formation or grouped according to membership in various civil and fraternal societies, marched through New York City under the command of parade marshal Thomas McKiernan and "Acting-Brigadier General" Captain Kerrigan. The military and civic societies, accompanied by spectators, paraded from East Broadway, through the Park, and down to Canal Street, where the civic societies dispersed. The military formations continued on to "the Tabernacle," where a number of units stayed to hear an address delivered by a Lieutenant Colonel Doheny on the history of the Irish Brigade, which served France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Doheny prefaced his lecture by reminding his listeners of Ireland's conquest in the seventeenth century by "a new race of undertakers who had all the treachery, all the audacity, and none of the valor of the Norman freebooters"; he went on to emphasize the valor of the Brigade against all foes, including the foul English, and concluded by praising the United States and vowing the loyalty of the Irish-American militias to the "'starry flag of liberation."'(2) Doheny was "frequently applauded during his lecture ..."(3)

In the evening, a number of fraternal organizations and eating clubs held their annual dinners in honor of the day. The select members of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, which at the time admitted only those of Irish birth and "respectable standing in society,"(4) celebrated the occasion with a series of customary toasts hailing the memory of Ireland, Irish unity, and the glory of the United States. The toasts were punctuated by pertinent speeches: one member took the occasion to remind the assembled guests of the high price that religious hatred had already claimed in Ireland and to call for genuine Christian brotherhood which would transcend the Protestants-Catholic division. The mixed crowd of wealthy Irish Protestants and Catholics responded with applause.(5)

This cursory retelling of a day's events seems at first to present an untidy mix of disparate celebrations and addresses. It is significant, however, because it makes manifest the shifting and conflicting currents of Irish-American identity in the mid-nineteenth century and after. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the Irish community in America was small, relatively wealthy, and dominated by merchants of both Catholic and Protestant extraction. Due to their wealth, their status, and their accommodating attitude toward the Anglo-Saxon Protestant elements of the American elite, the members of this mixed community were able to assimilate into Anglo-American society without extreme difficulty. However, in the immediate wake of the Great Famine which devastated Ireland in the late 1840s, more than a million impoverished and unskilled Irish Catholics flowed into the port cities of the Eastern seaboard. As a result, the Irish immigrant community in New York and the U.S. as a whole underwent a sea-change: between the late 1840s and the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the old Anglo-Irish character of the pre-Famine enclave was wholly eclipsed by an emerging Irish Catholic nationalism. Under the impact of their experiences in Ireland and the material, social, and cultural difficulties of assimilation into American life, the new immigrants, and subsequent waves of Irish fleeing similar problems, were melded into a distinct ethnic community which understood itself to be Irish in national and sectarian terms.(6)

The process by which the identity of the Irish-American community was formed or reworked must be understood if we hope to grasp the broader history of that community and its later social, political, and cultural trajectories. Working on the belief that the process of identity formation is reflected in and perhaps shaped by communal rituals and commemorative ceremonies, this study will investigate the interaction of commemoration and identity in the Saint Patrick's Day festivals of the Irish-American community in New York in the thirty-year span between 1845 and 1875. An initial overview of the history and historiography of Irish nationalism, followed by an examination of theoretical perspectives on national identity, memory, and commemoration, will set the stage for the main body of the paper. Following this prefatory material, the changing rhetoric of commemorative speeches offered by community leaders of various sorts will be surveyed so as to clarify the nature of the nationalist shift. More importantly, the form and significance of the festivals themselves will be examined, in the hope that such an examination will reveal both the course and the actual process of national identity formation. Finally, the argument will close with an analysis of additional sources ranging from personal testimony to visual documents. It is hoped that this paper will serve both as a contribution to our understanding of the history of the Irish-American community and as an example of the valuable role which a close analysis of commemorative rituals can play in the context of broader historical studies.


The lineaments of Irish-American identity were shaped in the formative period of Irish-American communal life between the 1840s and the 1870s. The end result was an identity defined by sectarian Catholic nationalism. In order to gauge the degree to which this nationalist identity was fundamentally new, a product in part of the Irish experience in the U.S - or, conversely, the degree to which it was rooted in developments in Irish cultural life prior to the Famine and post-Famine emigration - it is necessary to establish the character of Irish communal identity in the pre-Famine era.

The classic thesis, put forward by Lawrence McCaffery and Thomas Brown particularly, holds that the nearly 1.5 million Irish who fled famine conditions and arrived between 1845 and 1854 initially thought of themselves in 'peasant' terms: they identified themselves in terms of their families, villages, parishes, and perhaps counties. Forced into urban centers with Irish people from every town, parish, and county, however, the immigrants soon began to lose their old modes of identity. This process was accelerated as nativist hatred and common living conditions forced the immigrants to think of themselves as a single community. McCaffery succinctly states the classic thesis concerning the primacy of the American experience in creating Irish-American nationalism: "When the Irish came to the United States they brought their townland, parish, county, regional, and clan loyalties with them, but the common ghetto experience and Anglo-American Protestant hatred contributed to the creation of a larger Irish identity ..."(7)

Recent research casts doubt on the sharp distinction drawn in this view between the situation in Ireland and that which later arose in the United States. At the very least, it is clear that there were elements of national identity, a proto-nationalism of sorts, present in the Irish Catholic laboring classes before the formation of the Irish-Catholic community in America. As the historian Thomas Brown has observed, Irish Catholicism and anti-British sentiment were inextricably linked, and both played a highly significant role in pre-Famine Irish identity.(8) Harold Abramson and James Olson develop this idea further by defining Irish Catholicism as an ethnoreligion, that is, as a system of religious beliefs and practices which for external reasons - in this case primarily political and economic factors centering around British oppression has become inextricably linked to the social structures and cultural practices of an ethnic community.(9) United by centuries of oppression and resistance, as well as by a shared religion, the Irish who left for America undoubtedly had some sense of group unity.

Some historians have argued for the existence of an even greater nationalist element in the communal identity of the pre-Famine populace. Certainly, nationalism as a political ideology has a long lineage in Ireland; scholars such as D. George Boyce argue that the medieval Gaels had a national identity of sorts, and demands for political autonomy or even independence for Ireland were voiced by certain elements of the educated elite well before the nineteenth century.(10) It is also evident that various brands of cultural nationalism appeared in Ireland before the Famine, culminating in the Gaelic revivalist activities of cadres of scholars, writers, journalists, and other members of what John Hutchinson calls "the Irish secular intelligentsia."(11) Yet there is a great difference between an ideological tradition or the cultural activities of a small intellectual elite and a full-fledged popular movement. The existence of a nationalist or proto-nationalist political tradition means little in and of itself in the absence of broad-based popular support: as D. George Boyce admits, there is little actual continuity between the theory of modern Irish republican nationalism which he traces back to the eighteenth century and the mass Catholic/ethnic nationalism which has dominated Irish politics since the latter part of the nineteenth century.(12) As for Gaelic revivalism, Hutchinson recognizes the fact that it made real inroads into popular ideology only late in the nineteenth century.(13)

This being said, there is a strong case to be made for the claim that substantial elements of the Irish Catholic masses - those Wolfe Tone dubbed "the men of no property" - had begun to think of themselves and their community in embryonically nationalist terms prior to the Famine and emigration. There was a long tradition of organized 'peasant' violence against exploitative landlords in many parts of Ireland, and as time wore on this sort of violence became increasingly defined not only in terms of specific, local social and economic grievances, but also by a more general sense that such local problems were actually symptoms of a larger conflict between communities. Commenting on the ideology of the Defenders in the late eighteenth century, Jim Smyth notes an element of "assertive anti-protestantism (and of crude nationalism or republicanism which lay behind it)" and goes on to dub Defenderism "gut catholic nationalism."(14)

In cultural terms, it seems clear that there existed a sense of unity among the Irish Catholic masses which began to take on genuinely nationalist overtones in the first half of the nineteenth century. Gary Owens' forthcoming study of O'Connell's 1843-1845 "monster meetings" demonstrates the manner in which long-standing cultural traditions with both religious and secular roots were adapted to overtly political ends during the Repeal movement, not only by members of the intellectual and political elites but by townsmen and peasants as well. The "monster meetings" opened with processions in which the marchers often bore banners and other symbolic devices expressing their commitment to Repeal and, in a larger sense, to national unity. Many participants, for instance, carried greenery of various sorts which bore great popular significance due to its color, its associations with the land, and its reference to the insignia of the 1798 uprising. Deploying these plants in procession, the marchers "were symbolically brandishing nationalist emblems."(15)

It may therefore be said with some assurance that modem Irish nationalism in its dominant form as the ideology of a Catholic and ethnic mass movement can be found in inchoate form as early as the late eighteenth century; certainly, it was already beginning to be more than an "embryonic" mass phenomenon in the years prior to the Famine and emigration. However, it is also beyond doubt that the immigrants who poured into the United States during and after the Famine were by no means a fully defined national community. Most visibly, modem nationalism vied initially with traditional religious forms for the allegiance of the Irish-American masses (see below). Over a period of twenty five or thirty years, a new nationalist synthesis developed in the Irish-American community to a greater degree and along a different trajectory than the nationalist tendencies in pre-Famine Ireland; witness the genesis of Fenianism, one of the first fully developed nationalist movements in Ireland,(16) in the Irish-American community. In an important sense, the communal identity which came to predominate in the Irish-American community was fundamentally new, even in light of its pre-emigration roots. This identity incorporated elements of traditional ethnicity and Irish Catholicism, a distinctly modern form of Irish nationalism and national identity, and aspects of Anglo-American cultural patterns. The process of identity-formation, moreover, was not simply a syncretic one in which certain products of the American experience supplemented traditional identity; rather, it was the creation of a genuinely new identity in which nationalism played the predominant role. The primarily religious aspects of Catholic belief, the remaining traditional area and county allegiances of the peasants, and the more genteel and moderate - some would say 'less committed' - elements of identity which had characterized the pre-Famine Irish-American community were subordinated to an ascendant nationalism or reinterpreted within a nationalist conceptual framework.

Yet how is one to actually study the process of communal identity formation? Tracing such a process is a difficult endeavor, because the task can be begun but not completed by the institutional, quantitative, or socioeconomic studies which form the battery of traditional social history. Undoubtedly, identity is connected with socioeconomic conditions, but ultimately it is a self-conception which cannot be reduced to material origins. And, as a number of sociologists and social theorists have observed, group identity is inextricably tied to an equally malleable and analysis-resistant factor in the 'mind' of a community, namely, memory.(17)

The relationship between identity-constructions and memory is best understood within the context of what has come to be called interpretive or phenomenological social theory. Proponents of such theory contend that the quintessential human act is the invention of meaning. All people at all times construe meanings from events within the framework of epistemological constructs; that is, they invent and impose meanings and patterns on the material world. This meaning-construal is not, however, a wholly individual act: bound up in the same 'webs' of culture, individuals are able to communicate because their common culture naturally inclines them to read the same significance into events and transactions.(18)

Furthermore, because humans live in time as well as in social and cultural 'space,' identity is defined by significant experiences in the individual's own history: identity is in large part a product of past experience. But at the same time, as people attempt to meet the needs of the present, their identities are reordered by external factors. And as human conceptions of significance in the present are altered, previous experience - or rather, the remembered significance of experience - is also reworked: the past both shapes and is shaped by the present.(19)

This logic can be extended to social groups as well. Corporate identities derive strength and legitimacy not only from shared concerns in the present, but also from a shared construction of the past. This is especially true in the case of modern nationalism, which, following Benedict Anderson, is here defined as an "imagined political community ... imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign."(20) Nationalism involves first and foremost the belief that one stands in an essential, unbreakable relationship with numerous other people, the vast majority of whom one has never have met and of whom one has not even heard; this supposed horizontal relationship, which assumes mutual support and mutual interests among its members, is the imagined community.

Modern nationalism, though very much a product of modern social, economic, political, technological, and cultural conditions, has always presented itself as natural and eternally valid.(21) Therefore, as a nationalist self-conception takes hold of a particular set of people, they reimagine their relationships and those of their ancestors in the past as well. For nationalism to be successful, individuals must be 'enlightened' and made to understand that their pasts, which they may see in local, class, or religious terms, are actually part of 'the nation's' past experience. As nationalism takes hold and identity is transformed, memory itself is reformulated in new, nationalist terms.(22)

Given this conjuncture, it may be fruitful to search for the processes of identity formation in the sites where a national group memory is reflected, ritually enacted and reaffirmed, and often redefined. Whether and to what extent the rituals themselves play a formative role in such processes involves thorny questions, but at the very least, such ceremonies are the junctures at which processes of identity formation 'surface' through representation, and can therefore be studied.

In the case of the Irish-Americans, one such site clearly outstrips all others in the power of its symbolic resonances: the St. Patrick's Day celebration in America constitutes the "memory-site" par excellence because the majority of Irish-Americans, for whatever reason, came to believe that the ceremonies of the day could and should serve as reflections of Irish memory and identity, even - perhaps especially - when they disagreed over what form these ought to take.(23) It was on St. Patrick's Day that Irish-Americans rhetorically and symbolically grounded their present in a remembered and constructed past: in sermons, speeches, and in the form of the festivities themselves, alternative conceptions of Irish-American identity were validated by linking them through commemoration with an 'Irish past.' This process, of course, was a reciprocal one: the various aspects and forms of commemoration changed as the needs and conditions of the community changed. That is to say, the celebrations of St. Patrick's Day in the formative period of Irish-American identity are useful gauges of the development of that identity because the forms of commemoration shifted to accommodate and validate its shifting currents. It is to the various elements of the celebrations which we now turn.


During the period in question, St. Patrick's Day celebrations in New York were marked by numerous speeches, sermons and lectures, all of which emphasized some aspect of the day and linked it to some version of the Irish past. A comparison of the content and rhetorical strategies of several St. Patrick's Day orations will reveal different commemorative patterns in each: they covertly or overtly set forth disparate conceptions of Irish-American identity by interpreting the Irish historical experience and drawing out its 'meaning' in different ways.(24)

The sermon given by Archbishop Hughes on St. Patrick's Day in 1853 is a striking example of a traditional, deeply Catholic interpretation of Irish history and communal identity. Hughes, writing after nearly a decade of starvation in Ireland and speaking to an audience which no doubt included many who had barely survived the Famine, exhorts his audience not to "judge the things of God as we would those of men"; instead, reflecting on the extraordinary and unshakeable faith of the Irish (by which he means Irish Catholics), he praises the Irish for remaining a devoutly "Christian nation" even under the harshest conditions. It may be, he suggests, that Irish Catholic history is a record of suffering induced or permitted by God so that "fine gold" may come "from the crucible of [a soul's] trial." The Famine itself should not be seen only with "human modes of vision"; perhaps even here, God's will was at work. It may even be, Hughes suggests, that the Famine and the dispersion of the Irish are themselves tools by which God's word might be disseminated.(25)

Thus, the Famine and the emigration it generated do not mark a break with Irish history, but rather a continuity of purification through suffering. Hughes' oration employs a rhetoric of fate and diaspora to construct a vision of history and identity in which the central task of the long-suffering Irish peasant is to "cherish ... and propagate" Saint Patrick's message. In short, the work of maintaining faith despite adversity has defined Irish Catholic identity since the conversion in the fourth century, and the Irish Catholic in nineteenth-century America is no different. For Hughes, memory and identity are one, and St. Patrick's Day serves as a moment of reflection on and reaffirmation of this link.

Hughes' traditionalism regarding the Irish Catholic past and Irish Catholic identity was precisely the sort of conception that was gradually effaced by the militantly nationalist self-conception that grew in strength among Irish-Americans in the decades following the Famine emigration; in a sense, Hughes' sermon provides a foil against which one can understand what was radically new about Irish-American identity and memory. The ascendancy of the nationalist conception of Irish identity and the reformulation of collective memory which it involved was not 'complete' until the 1870s and 1880s; but even as Archbishop Hughes gave his traditional interpretation of Irish history, an Irish-American soldier, Lieutenant Colonel Doheny, presented a lecture in which the major themes of mature Irish-American nationalist identity and memory are manifest.

On the evening of St. Patrick's Day, 1853, Doheny lectured to a large audience on the history of the Irish Brigade, Irish mercenaries who had served under the French in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The lecture recounts the various battles and deeds of the Brigade, emphasizing its unflinching courage and heroism in the face of uneven odds and terrible danger. The climax of Doheny's narrative centers around the Brigade's final battle, in which the Irish faced and defeated a British army:

.... Everything had gone down before [the British force], and Louis was preparing to leave the field when he asked [Marshal] Saxe had he any hope left. The Marshal answered, "only one - the Irish Brigade," and the Brigade was ordered to charge.

Well had it been for France that the Marshal's sagacity reserved them for that hour. Instantly they deployed on the plains. The [British] column for the first time halted. They immediately recognized the men with whom the trial must be final. Dillon gave the command, charge, adding "Remember Limerick and the bad faith of the English!" A fierce shout of joy answered the appeal. The English poised and fired, and deadly and telling was its effect. Without moving they fired a second volley, deadlier than the first. But before they were ready for the third fire, the Irish were upon them in front and flanks.... The English reeled and went down. Their defeat became utter and hopeless. The Irish formed in line of battle on the crest of the hill, and one wild shout rent the air. There they stood, the victors of that tremendous field, the green flag fluttering in the free wind, above the carnage and defeated.(26)

Doheny's lecture presents this information as history. Yet implicit in this 'factual' recounting is a vision of the Irish past and present utterly different from that offered by Hughes. For Doheny, the Irish past is one of exile, battle, and undying hatred of the British; the Brigade is worthy of commemoration because its deeds are Irish deeds, and stand as evidence of Irish strength even in exile. It should be remembered that his lecture was delivered to an audience composed largely of Irish-American militiamen: in a narrative sense, it must have seemed inevitable to the listeners that the brigade of Irish exiles, driven from their homeland by "a new race of undertakers"(27) should fight their final battle against the English, that the English should recognize their nemesis before they were slain, and that the Irish should triumph alone, unaided by a third party.

This sense of 'inevitability' was a product of growing nationalist expectations. Doheny's lecture was only one of many nationalist commemorations masked as history offered to the Irish-American community in the years following their immigration.(28) Its vision of the Irish past as one of betrayal, oppression, and righteous vengeance stands in contrast to Hughes' vision of divinely ordained misery and spiritual strength. It offers, in short, a nationalist rhetoric of history in contrast to a religious one.

Like Hughes' sermon, Doheny's lecture presents, by extension, a concomitant view of Irish-American identity in the present. Addressing the militia members, Doheny observes:

.... We differ from the Brigade. Their renown is world-wide. We are without a name. But we have this advantage - they served despotism - we are ranged round the standard of freedom. They fought for glory - our star is liberty. Here I beg leave to say, and say not only in your name, but in the name of the fifteen thousand armed Irishmen in these States, that the oath we take in proffering our swords to the Republic is inviolable.... We may have other duties to fulfill, but none inconsistent with our fidelity to the "starry flag of liberation ..."(29)

The Irish-American is defined by his Irish heritage and ought to be worthy of his martial forebears. He is also a loyal American dedicated to the United States; Doheny's assertion that the Irish militia-man has no duties inconsistent with the needs of the U.S. reflects a common response to nativist charges of dual loyalty. In a speech given two years later on St. Patrick's Day, for instance, the noted orator Thomas Francis Meagher insisted that America "does itself great wrong when it supposes, in view of that which occurs in the emigration from Ireland, that it can fail in its strength because of the addition which it receives from poor old Ireland, drawing out drops of her choicest blood, and infusing them into the veins of this young giant, that he may go forward with more rapid strides to achieve the brilliant conquest which awaits him in the future."(30)

The nationalist conception of Irish-American identity that came to predominate in the period under consideration was already developed and had already gained adherents in 1853. One of its primary components, as evidenced in Doheny's lecture, was a reformulated memory of an Irish past couched in terms of vengeance against Britain, which depicted Irish strength and pride in martial terms.

Within a decade, this vision of Irish-American identity was so dominant that even Irish Catholic theologians and priests spoke of the past and present in nationalist terms and with nationalist emphases. On St. Patrick's Day 1860, speaking to the Catholic Library Association on "The fidelity of Ireland in defence of her Liberties and her Ancient Religion" the Reverend Dr. Cahill focused not only on stoic Catholic faith and God's mysterious ways, but also, and primarily, on the oppression of the Irish nation under the heel of English rulers both Catholic and Protestant. Remarkably, though the speech echoes some of the religious concerns touched on in Hughes' sermon, even Cahill's assertions concerning Irish Catholicism are couched in nationalist and martial rhetoric:

.... Five centuries of persecution - Catholic and Protestant persecution - one for conquest, one for bigotry, passed over Ireland. And, yet through all this bigotry and persecution, we never lost a man from our ranks, but we stood foot to foot and shoulder to shoulder, and preserved to this day the faith we then professed.(31)

Addressing the issue of the Great Famine, which Hughes had seen as the work of God, Cahill reiterates the nationalist claim that the Famine was exacerbated by calculated indifference on the part of the British oppressors: "Two thousand perished in Sligo, under the burning rays of the sun.... And yet, while men, women, and children lay without an awning over them, there were twenty-four millions of gold in the British treasury."(32) The memory of the Famine is no longer a religious one of mourning but a nationalist one of righteous anger at injustice, the latest and most grotesque massacre in a line that can be traced back to "the butcheries by Cromwell's soldiers of men, women, and children."

Finally, turning to the present, Cahill's oration praises the massed ranks of Irish militiamen that had marched in the parade, and notes with pride the way in which the units paired the Irish with the American flag and saluted George Washington's statue as they marched by. As in Doheny's lecture, the Irish-American man is here defined by his commitment both to his own people, which flows out of an unjust past and a demand for national restitution, and by his American patriotism. Just as the emblems are paired, so too Irish-American patriotism coexists harmoniously with Irish-American nationalism.

Nationalist modes of memory and identity were so prevalent in the Irish-American community by the 1870s that a certain Father Abram J. Ryan could mark St. Patrick's Day with a commemorative poem composed entirely in nationalist rhetoric and wholly devoid of any mention of religion, faith, or St. Patrick himself. Published in the St. Patrick's Day issue of The Irish World, "Erin's Flag" utilizes the Celtic race-rhetoric that had begun to make itself heard even among moderate nationalists. It calls on Irishmen everywhere to free Ireland from the British yoke, and invokes the Famine as the pinnacle of British oppression. In a sense, the poem demands worship of the Irish Flag, eschewing humble faith for militancy: "Take it up! take it up! bear it back from afar - /That Banner must blaze 'mid the lightnings of war;/Lay your hands on its folds, lift your gaze to the sky,/and swear that you'll bear it triumphant or die."(33)


The two decades between Doheny's lecture and Father Ryan's poem saw a complete eclipse of the traditional Catholic form of memory, replaced by commemorations (lectures, speeches, and poems) offered on St. Patrick's Day that reformulated the same past in entirely different terms: blood and race, martial prowess, heroic struggle, hatred of Britain and, in place of stoic spirituality, a sense of coming confrontation with the British enemy. Clearly, St. Patrick's Day provided a symbolically potent forum for sermons and orations which commemorated the Irish past and subtly or explicitly offered an interpretation of the Irish-American present. But commemorative rituals are not simply fora for public speaking and analytical commentary; it is the in the practice of such rituals that their greatest significance for the participants and for the audience lies. In other words, the enactment of ritual - essentially participation in the deployment of meaningful symbols - plays a vital role in matters of commemoration and identity-formation for the participants. The form of the ritual itself determines how meaningful it will be to those who witness it (this claim will be further elaborated below).

In the pre-Famine era, St. Patrick's Day celebrations in New York and elsewhere in the U.S. centered around evening banquets held by fraternal or charitable orders for their members and special guests. Such banquets were first practiced regularly by the "Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in the City of New York," probably founded in 1784 and incorporated in 1827. One of the regular activities as set forth in its charter was a dinner in honor of "Ireland's Tutelary Saint."(34) The Society was perhaps the most prestigious Irish fraternal and charitable organization in the pre-Famine period; the formal structure it established was imitated by the other fraternal organizations which held banquets in the years that followed.(35)

Society members and guests began the evening celebration with a large meal. Following the meal, the diners engaged in a long series of regular and voluntary toasts punctuated by songs and pertinent remarks. The toasts were proposed by individual speakers and repeated by the assembly (a pattern of call and response). The 1857 Society of Friendly Sons dinner included toasts to Ireland herself, to Irish "Poets, Orators and Dramatists", to the President of the United States, and to "The Memory of Washington."(36) Songs, mostly Irish folk ballads, were then sung by all the members.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Society of Friendly Sons was not particularly nationalist, and certainly maintained a view of the Irish past and present very much at odds with that of the vast bulk of Irish Catholic immigrants. The non-sectarian Society was composed primarily of successful, economically comfortable individuals who were neither victims of famine conditions in Ireland nor particularly militant, perhaps due to the ease with which the members or their parents and grandparents had assimilated in early nineteenth-century America. The Society regularly toasted "Civil and Religious Liberty," often with members of the Society of St. George (British Americans, that is) in attendance.(37) Until mid-century, the royal house of England, as the ruling house of Ireland, was also honored with a toast.(38)

In short, the established form of commemoration was generated by a Society which had little commitment to Irish national liberation or Irish Catholic identity as the new immigrants understood these things. The Society was limited to the Catholic and Protestant elite of the old community; such men had been raised in the U.S. or had had little trouble assimilating into the dominant Anglo-American culture. The banquet and toast form was admirably suited to their attitudes of restrained ethnic and fraternal identification: without any sort of militancy or public demonstration, it served to "commemorate the glory of Ireland, to drop a tear upon her sorrows and to express a hope for her regeneration."(39)

Clearly, the banquet ritual as practiced by the Society of Friendly Sons was unsatisfactory in the eyes of the post-Famine immigrants. At first, among the newer, more nationalist organizations, the established form was appropriated and the toasts simply altered: by the 1850s, most evening banquets were dominated by commemorations of Irish martyrs and heroes, Ireland, and Irish heritage, though toasts to American heroes and institutions were still expected. The regular toasts of the "Young Friends of Ireland" society offer a useful example of this phenomenon. Toasts were offered to "the memory of O'Connell," an Irish nationalist leader, alongside toasts to George Washington and the Pope. More telling still were the extended toasts:

1. The Day we celebrate - the embodiment of two great principles, religion and patriotism. Let them go hand in hand, that the ardor and impetuosity of the one may be tempered by the calm, inspiring influence of the other.

2. Ireland - She shall come forth from the crucible of oppression, purified and refined; and her light shall shine the brighter for the gloom which now surrounds her.

3. The United States - the sanctuary of freedom, where the pilgrim of oppression bowing before her shrine, in thankful reverence, offers up the incense of his prayers, and lays before her altar the sacrifice of a grateful heart.

.... 10. Ninety-eight [1798, the year of an abortive uprising in Ireland] - a year in which was shed most profusely the blood of generous and most patriotic hearts; let their names be enshrined in our memory, that when the dawn of freedom has arrived we may erect monuments whose tops shall reach the skies, in commemoration of their glorious deeds....(40)

These toasts suggest the extent to which elements of the newer immigrant population reworked the meaning of the occasion within the boundaries of the established ritual. As in the speeches, religious elements and assertions of American loyalty remained evident, but the commemoration was increasingly dominated by Irish nationalism.

In addition to the banquets, Irish militia units marched occasionally in informal St. Patrick's Day processions throughout the early years of the nineteenth century. In the 1820s, a few benevolent societies joined the procession. By the 1840s, though still extremely small (several hundred to a little over a thousand participants), the New York procession was large enough to warrant coverage by the New York press, and other Irish communities had begun to organize marches as well.(41)

It was only in the 1850s, however, that the St. Patrick's Day Parade became a major event in the life of the Irish-American community. In 1849, the marchers in the New York parade numbered roughly 1,500 men; by 1866, The Irish American claimed thirty to forty thousand; in 1870, the New York Herald put the number at a full forty thousand marchers.(42) The St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York also underwent a change in composition. Once a collection of militia units, benevolent societies and Catholic organizations, under the impact of the new immigration the St. Patrick's Day Parade became a full-fledged nationalist display. Increasingly, the parade was dominated by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, then a militant nationalist organization open only to Irish Catholics. Founded in 1836, the ranks of the Order expanded prodigiously during the Famine emigration to America, and its New York chapters turned out in force for the parade.(43)

Through the 1850s and 1860s, the St. Patrick's Day Parade underwent remarkable changes in size and composition, but even more significant was its sea-change in character. Just as commemorative speeches and toasts offered on St. Patrick's Day took on a nationalist character in this period, the same shift, with its elements of American patriotism and full-fledged nationalism, was manifest in the organization and symbolism of the parade itself.

The order of march in 1857 provides a striking case study of the 'new' parade. The procession began with nearly two dozen militias, most named in honor of Ireland ("Erin's Guard," "Irish Rifles") or in memory of various Irish heroes ("Wolfe Tone Guard," "Emmet Rifles"). The civic parade which followed was composed of fraternal and benevolent societies escorted by militia honor guards. These societies bore banners which were rich in nationalist symbolism, and almost invariably, these same banners employed images of Irish and American cooperation:

.... The 1st division [of the Laborer's U.B. Society] carried a large green banner, with a representation of Washington taking an exile by the hand on one side, and on the reverse a harp wreathed with shamrocks, and the motto: "United, we stand - divided, we fall."

The 1st division [of the Ancient Order of Hibernians] was escorted by the "Irish National Grenadiers".... They carried a large banner having on one side the figures of Washington and Montgomery, with the legend: "Faith, Hope, and Charity" and on the other O'Connell and Sarsfield [both Irish nationalist heroes].

.... With these were joined the "United Sons of Erin." Their banner bore on one side a portrait of Montgomery in the old blue and buff uniform, with the inscription: "America, the land of my adoption." On the other side was a representation of Hibernia resting on Harp, while a kneeling figure points to the Eagle of America coming to her assistance....(44)

In the years following the arrival of the Famine immigrants - that is, throughout the critical period spanning the 1850s and 1860s during which Irish-American identity was consolidated - the St. Patrick's Day Parade became the undisputed centerpiece of St. Patrick's Day festivities. This held true not only in the New York Irish community but throughout the country.(45) Although a number of organizations continued to hold the traditional St. Patrick's Day banquets, their significance in the eyes of the Irish-American community was utterly eclipsed by that of the parade. This is evident from newspaper coverage in the native and Irish American press; in the period under discussion, banquet minutes and toasts which had previously merited the front page were pushed back or supplanted by detailed coverage of not only the city parade but processions across the country as well. By the 1860s, The Irish-American weekly regularly devoted its front page to coverage of the St. Patrick's Day parade in other Irish-American communities for nearly a month after the celebration. The Irish World and American Industrial Liberator, which subordinated coverage of the parade to more serious nationalist news in its first year of publication, fell into step and devoted the entire front page of its second St. Patrick's Day issue to reports on the festivities.(46)

The St. Patrick's Day Parade became the focus of commemorative activity in the Irish-American community because it met the present needs of that community in a way that small, genteel banquets could not. In the first place, faced with nativist animosity, the community needed to demonstrate both its cohesion as an ethnic community and its loyalty to the U.S. simultaneously; in this sense, the parade was a public demand for respectability by Irish Catholics who found themselves in a materially promising but hostile environment. It provided a visible, public venue for the physical and symbolic enactment of Irish-American strength and cultural/national cohesion: yearly processions of tens of thousands of Irishmen through the city trailed by cheering onlookers had a sheer physical power that was itself a challenge to nativist attitudes. Moreover, the ranks of armed militiamen carried both physical and symbolic value for the Irish onlookers; numerous speakers, like Reverend Cahill (see above), made reference to the force of Irish arms and the coming liberation of Ireland from the British. Equal in importance to the show of force involved, the parade was a chance to show that Irish-Americans were not the disorganized, brutish drunkards which Anglo-America imagined them to be. Thus, The Irish American urged marchers not to drink and to behave solemnly and decorously as befit the occasion; the illustrations of the march published in the Irish World in 1872 and 1873 are striking for their depiction of the ordered ranks of the militia and of the solemn military bearing possessed even by the civil societies [see illustration] - a picture quite at odds with the snide comments habitually made by native newspapers about the amount of drinking involved in the annual celebration.

Perhaps more importantly, the St. Patrick's Day Parade also served as a ritualized form of public memory for the Irish-Americans who marched under banners which depicted the past in terms of a pantheon of Irish nationalist heroes. It provided a perfect symbolic forum for the expression of the Irish nationalism which formed the core of Irish-American identity: faced with terrible hardship and nourished by hatred of Britain, the Irish-American community was welded together from disparate county and local identities and traditional religious affiliations into a group which imagined itself as a single ethnic body. Like all such communities, this imagined community needed to project its unity back into the past; it needed an Irish past rather than the Catholic past that Hughes offered, or a multiplicity of pasts which, though united by some national feeling and a deep hatred of Britain, centered around local village identities rather than abstract national ones. The symbolism of flags and representational nationalist banners, and perhaps the simple physical symbolism of massed armed Irishmen marching freely, provided the basis for such a memory.

These two functions - the political/assertive and the commemorative - were unified in the parade itself. As the example offered above demonstrates, the marchers bore banners which more often than not emphasized national and patriotic themes simultaneously; judging from illustrations in the newspapers of the period, the parade itself was fronted by an Irish flag (golden harp on emerald field) and an American flag (of equal height and length). The parade aggressively figured forth a community which was both united in identity and memory and respectable in American terms.(47) In the words of the nationalist newspaper editor Patrick Ford:

Is St. Patrick's Day only a day-dream, and nothing more? No! Our great Saint's festival does not flit away as a shadow; it is not consumed in smoke and vanity. It is a day of mighty significance. The day, indeed, is full of proud memories of the past, on which Irishmen love to dwell. But what then? This does not blind us to the duties of the present and future. On the contrary, those recollections, from which our race draws inspiration, are suggestive of noble thoughts and high resolves. On this one day in the year an Irishman is A MAN. During the other three-hundred and sixty-four days, an Irishman feels himself curtailed of his fair proportion. But on this one day he attains to his full height. He does not slink into a corner; he does not conceal himself in the shade, lest people may think he is Irish, but he goes abroad in the plenitude of his stature, and he bears himself aloft, the equal of the proudest in the land.(48)

Ford's rhetoric is in part a response to the vicious nativist sentiment which the Irish-American community faced throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. As such, it exaggerates somewhat the discrepancy between the daily life of the Irish-Americans and their performance in the parade. The parade ought not to be regarded as a form of play-acting designed to compensate for daily slights and abuse, though undoubtedly it served that purpose for many Irish immigrants who labored under bad conditions for little pay and were targets of attack from Anglo-American society. It was a slightly shrill but nevertheless authentic expression of Irish-American nationalism and national identity; to wit, it is notable that by the 1870s and 1880s, some of the militia units marching in the parade were Fenian and then Clan na Gael fighters, some of them bloodied in the Civil War and many of them involved in funding, arming, and participating in anti-British actions overseas.

In short, the development of the parade form of commemoration and its steady growth and ascendancy bear witness to the development of a full-fledged Irish-American identity which involved the reworking of the multiple immigrant identities in nationalist terms. It was a mass ritual which symbolically acted out Irish respectability in the face of hostility (and was, therefore, aggressive but simultaneously decorous) and Irish unity in nationalist terms. As Ford's quote suggests, the parade carried out these tasks through commemoration of a particular vision of the Irish past, one which centered around strong, unyielding nationalist men who fought for Ireland or for the United States against the British (and Anglo-Saxon) oppressor.


This paper has argued throughout that the changing patterns of St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the United States can be studied as lucid reflections of the process of identity-formation which the Irish-American community underwent in the middle of the nineteenth century. But the more difficult question - to which the preceding analysis also speaks, but less directly - is, to what extent did ritual practices like the parades and banquets play a role in that identity formation? This, of course, is part of a larger question which many historians and social theorists, no longer content with the base-superstructure models which social historians have traditionally embraced, have begun to address in earnest.

Social historians working in the Marxist or the Annales traditions are inclined to treat cultural practices as reflections of socioeconomic structures. By extension, even the most creative among these historians regard rituals as performances in which stable, prefabricated ideologies are acted out and social tensions made manifest.(49) It no longer seems plausible, however, to claim that cultural practices are ultimately just epiphenomena of a social, economic, and political base. A growing body of work, particularly in cultural anthropology and 'the new cultural history,'(50) suggests that the performance and enactment of ritual forms like commemorative ceremonies play some sort of constitutive role in group memory and identity. Given the central claim of phenomenological social theory that humans are meaning-producing animals who move in a 'meaning-laden world,' coupled with the driving claim of interpretive anthropology that this meaning is located in the shared signs and symbol-complexes which comprise culture, it is but a short step to the recognition that personal and group identities are ordered and reordered by the "symbolic universe" in which they are located.

Following this analysis, ritual, alongside myth, is one of the most potent media for the representation and transformation of our ideas about the world and about ourselves (ritual, in this context, means simply formal, structured symbolic behavior). In ritual, powerful symbols are represented and enacted in material and public form, and in such a form they can exercise extraordinary cognitive and emotional impact on participants and sympathetic observers. Participants in ritual are not simply acting for observers. Rather, they themselves are deeply affected by the ideal representations in which they are engaged. This is true not only of religious rituals but of their secular counterparts as well, and all the more so of rituals that represent a real or ideal group identity. Group identities are built around a core of powerful symbols, and the ubiquity of ritual representations of such identities suggests very strongly that these rituals are profoundly important to the continuity and development of these groups. It should be stressed once again that rituals are not mere expressions of existing ideas: they concretize, direct, and shape such ideas. Accordingly, ritual not only reflects but "creates the identity of the group."(51)

In short, then, human culture and cognition are such that the performance or the witnessing of what we think we know about ourselves and our community reaffirms and reworks that 'knowledge' and actually reshapes our thoughts and identities to some degree. To be sure, it is difficult to gauge exactly the impact of something like the St. Patrick's Day parade on the formation of Irish-American identity, that is, to study the parade not just as a reflection but as a causal factor in the development of Irish-American national memory and identity. Was the parade itself a powerful ritual affirmation of particular patterns of identity? Based on the evidence already offered concerning the participants and on the admittedly slim evidence which I have amassed concerning the festival audience, it seems reasonable to answer in the affirmative.

The parade grew in size throughout the period under study; concomitant with this growth was a massive expansion of the size of the audience. In 1872, the Irish World claimed 500,000 observers;(52) even adjusting for exaggeration, a 15- or 20-to-1 ratio of onlookers to marchers seems secure, and the audiences were undoubtedly massive. Of those onlookers, a good portion were Irish-Americans, who soon took to 'participating' in the celebration by wearing green clothing.

The parade was visible and assertive enough to have had a marked effect on both anti-Irish elements and Irish-Americans alike. Mary Ryan notes the negative reaction of the American press and the occasional scuffles that broke out between Irish-American and nativist marchers:

... The festive Irish parade every St. Patrick's Day did not win the approval of the city press, or of their middle-class readers; on the contrary, it brought annual complaints about the disruption of business. In 1871, moreover, the Irish proclivity for marching precipitated one of the bloodiest police confrontations in the city's history when the Orange Irish paraded to celebrate the battle of the Boyne. On St. Patrick's Day two years later, the The New York Times expressed equal disdain for the Irish and the ritual of the parade. Commenting on the procession of some twenty-five thousand marchers [five-eighths the figure offered by the Irish newspapers], it opined: "It is difficult in the extreme for the American Mind to fathom."(53)

The Times' genteel dismissal of parading is belied by the facts: Ryan's essay demonstrates that Fourth of July parades were an accepted and expected element of public ceremony until the parade form was appropriated by the Irish-American community. Furthermore, the very fact that Irish-American parades continued despite the condemnation of the press and public undoubtedly had a consolidating effect on Irish-American conceptions of their community's strength and unity.

This consolidating effect seems to be the most important aspect of the parade as a functioning ritual with real shaping power. Batt O'Connor, an immigrant and later a revolutionary who eventually fought in Ireland, provides a first-hand account of this effect. Reflecting on his loneliness in America and his longing for his native Ballybeyond, O'Connor writes that participation in a St. Patrick's Day parade in Providence brought on a nationalist epiphany: "I walked in that procession [the Providence Parade] and in the emotion I felt, walking as one of that vast crowd of Irish emigrants celebrating our national festival, I awoke to the full consciousness of my love for my country."(54) Undoubtedly, the 'external' bases of O'Connor's Irish-American nationalism (underemployment and the shared plight of immigrants, nativist attacks on "Irishmen") had already begun to have an effect on him, but the parade completed the process of reworking his local memories and identity into a nationalist self-conception founded on an imagined national community with a distinct national past.

Finally, in suggesting various ways in which St. Patrick's Day celebrations consolidated Irish-American identity, it may be valuable to focus briefly on a medium which until this point has served as a 'transparent' source of information for this study, the Irish-American press itself. New York papers like the Irish-American and The Irish World had a national circulation, and their increasingly wide coverage of St. Patrick's Day festivities across the country has already been noted. But this coverage, which often went on for several issues, was not just a reflection of increasing interest and participation in the parade; for the individual reader in New York, Boston, or - perhaps especially - in a smaller Irish-American community, the exhaustive descriptions of St. Patrick's Day dinners and parades across the country depicted a genuinely national unity that would not have been obvious on a local level. The yearly festival, no matter what its size in some small Irish-American enclave, assumed national dimensions in the weekly papers from New York and Boston. As anthropologist David Kertzer observes, "[o]ne of the most potent, and widely found, mechanisms for tying local groups to a national entity is the simultaneity of symbolic action"; exhaustive coverage of the parade in the Irish-American press ensured that marchers in parades across the country would recognize that they were participating in a genuinely national ethnic ritual.(55) In short, the Irish newspapers ought to be seen not just as conveyors of information but as representations which played a similar role to the celebrations themselves in reconstituting Irish identity.

In the case of The Irish World, this was accomplished not only in print but even more powerfully in images. In its first three St. Patrick's Day issues, the newspaper devoted part or all of its front page to illustrations of the parade in New York. The March 24, 1873 issue presents a fascinating dual panorama [see illustration]. At the center of the upper panel, St. Patrick extends his arms over the globe, which is centered on Ireland shining forth from the sea. Around this central illustration are grouped thirteen illustrations of the parade in cities as diverse as Buenos Aires, Sydney, New Orleans, Chicago and Dublin. Printed beneath these illustrations is the legend "What region throughout all the world that is not full of our labors?" Below this is an illustration of the New York parade which constitutes the entire lower panel. In the foreground, massed onlookers cheer the marchers, who pass in front of a stately government building (presumably the mayor's seat). In contrast to the crowds, the marchers present tight lines and military discipline; both militia units and civil organizations are depicted marching solemnly and decorously in rank. The most striking elements of the illustration are the ubiquitous Irish and American flags: the Harp of Erin is displayed next to the American flag, and on the palatial building which provides the backdrop fly not only the American flag but the Irish flag as well.

The visual messages are multiple but familiar. The national and even international unity of Irishmen and Irish communities is transmitted through the visual metaphor of St. Patrick blessing and encompassing the planet. The military bearing and decorum of the marchers, no matter how they seemed in the parade itself, are fully rendered in the illustration. The magnitude of the parade itself is depicted: an indistinct mass waves hats and cheers as rank follows upon rank of loyal, disciplined Irishmen. In short, the illustration bears out the Irish-American nationalist self-conception that the parade itself ideally presented to both participants and onlookers; ideal though it may be, this representation was the New York St. Patrick's Day parade to Irish readers across the country. If the parade provided a representation of the imagined community, the Irish-American press disseminated that representation on a national scale.


The Irish-American community celebrated St. Patrick's Day regularly in the decades following its mass immigration into the United States because the day itself was seen as a symbolically resonant occasion of unparalleled importance. It provided a forum in which all elements of the community commemorated the Irish past, whatever shape that past might have in the minds of the various celebrants. But the content and forms of the celebration changed markedly between the late 1840s and the 1870s, so that the festival itself came to assume a different significance for the same community. This sea-change was not random or arbitrary: it paralleled, reflected, and played a role in the reworking of identity that transformed a community characterized by multiple loyalties of which inchoate nationalism was only one into a community that imagined itself as a unified, national organism with a common, Irish past. The St. Patrick's Day festival commemorated a constructed past - or rather, it commemorated the conception of past that the celebrants shared - in new, national terms and thus sanctioned present conceptions of identity.

It is in this light that questions about the historical 'shape' of Irish-American identity and its constituent factors can be asked of the parade by historians, and highly suggestive answers given: ritual is in part the performance of identity, and the historian can 'get inside a group's head' with some certainty if he or she focuses on ritual enactments of self. Beyond the particular historical study which this paper offers, therefore, it points toward the value of historical treatments of commemorative rituals in illuminating the black box of identity-construction.

Department of History New Brunswick, NJ 08903


Acknowledgments: My thanks to Professor Matt Matsuda of Rutgers University for guiding me through the study of memory and commemoration. My thanks also to Professor Gary Owens of Huron College, the University of Western Ontario, for generously sharing his valuable essay with me prior to its publication.

1. New York Herald Tribune, no. 7391, March 18, 1853, p. 4.

2. See The Irish-American for a full reprint of the lecture in two parts, vol. V, no. 16 and 17, April 16 and 23, 1853.

3. The New York Herald Tribune, no. 7391, March 18, 1853, p. 4 (or 6).

4. The 1832 redrafting of the "By-laws of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick," Westchester, N.Y. Reprinted at New York Catholic Protectory, 1882. American Irish Historical Society, Box 1, Folder 1, p. 3.

5. The Irish American, vol V., no. 13, March 26, 1853, p. 1.

6. Marjorie R. Fallows, Irish Americans: Identity and Assimilation (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1979), pp. 22-23. See also Lawrence McCaffery, The Irish Diaspora in America (Bloomington, IN, 1976), pp. 62-69.

7. McCaffery, op. cit., p. 108. See also Thomas Brown's classic essay "The Origins and Character of Irish-American Nationalism," in The Review of Politics XVIII, No. 3 (July, 1956); reprinted in Lawrence McCaffery, ed., Irish Nationalism and the American Contribution (New York, 1976).

8. Thomas N. Brown, Irish-American Nationalism, 1870-1890 (Philadelphia, 1966), chapters 1-2. On the relation between pre-modern ethnic identity and the modern phenomenon of nationalism, see Anthony Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford, 1986); on Irish identity particularly, see in Smith pp. 65, 85, 110-111, 159.

9. Harold J. Abramson. "Ethnic Diversity within Catholicism" in the Journal of Social History 5 (1971): 366-368; reprinted in Dolores Liptak, A Church of Many Cultures: Selected Historical Essays on Ethnic American Catholicism (New York, 1988). See also James Olson, Catholic Immigrants in America (Chicago, 1987), chapters 1-2.

10. For a succinct statement of claims of this sort, see D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London, 1991), second edition, pp. 19-20.

11. John Hutchinson, The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism: The Gaelic Revival and the Creation of the Irish Nation State (London, 1987), pp. 9-10.

12. Boyce, op. cit., p. 386.

13. Hutchinson, op. cit., p. 47.

14. Jim Smyth. The Men of No Property: Irish Radicals and Popular Politics in the Late Eighteenth Century (New York, 1992), pp. 45, 182-3.

15. Gary Owens. "Nationalism Without Words: Spectacle and Ritual in the Repeal 'Monster Meetings' of 1843-1845," in James Donnelly and Kerby Miller, Popular Culture in Pre-Famine Ireland, forthcoming.

16. Joseph Lee writes: "Fenianism was the first political movement to channel the energies of agricultural laborers and small farmers, hitherto expressed in ribbonism and faction fighting, into a national organization. By permeating local discontents with a national perspective the Fenians ... helped broaden petty horizons and foster a sense of national political consciousness." Joseph Lee, The Modernisation of Irish Society, 1848-1918 (Dublin, 1973), pp. 57-58.

17. See Maurice Halbwachs, On Collective Memory. Translated and edited by Lewis Coser (Chicago, 1992). See also Paul Connerton, How Societies Remember (Cambridge, 1989).

18. For a classic statement of this approach, which draws on the work of Alfred Schutz and thus by extension the phenomenology of Husserl, see Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York, 1966). See also the important work of interpretive anthropologists Clifford Geertz and Victor Turner, both of whom draw on the hermeneutic and phenomenological tradition in their study of culture.

19. In this regard, the hermeneutics of Wilhelm Dilthey are most applicable. See the selections from his work printed in Wilhelm Dilthey, Pattern and Meaning in History (New York, 1962), pp. 67-70, 99-100.

20. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition (New York, 1983), 1991, p. 6.

21. See Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, 1983). See also Smith, op. cit., ch. 6.

22. Useful case studies of this process can be found in Richard G. Fox, ed., Nationalist Ideologies and the Production of National Cultures, (Washington, 1990). See particularly Lisa Malkii's insightful study of the Hutu refugees and the emergence of Hutu nationalism, which highlights the connection between memory and identity construction.

23. The furor which arose over a single toast offered at the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner in 1851 is quite telling. Following toasts and songs in celebration of the holiday itself, "Ireland, the land of our Fathers," the United States, and the President, the members raised their glasses to "The Queen of Great Britain" and sang "God Save the Queen." On March 22, the New York weekly Irish-American, which had given extensive coverage of the various St. Patrick's Day processions and celebrations since its inception two years earlier, printed the minutes of the Society's banquet, and savaged its "Infamous Conduct": "And it was fondly imagined that the members of the society would on the occasion do nothing to dishonor it. But alas! it was not so. The Health of Of England's Queen was toasted and the British national anthem chaunted on the occasion!" The anger and indignation on the part of the editor, hardly a radical nationalist, is a striking reflection of the importance of 'proper' commemoration on St. Patrick's Day: the occasion can be deeply dishonored by something as seemingly insignificant as a toast because its symbolic power is recognized by everyone within the community, and the impropriety of a toast to the enemy of Ireland is accordingly magnified.

24. The analysis that follows is a study of select speeches and their commemorative strategies. It makes no claim to completeness, in that these speeches were selected from a number, of similar examples as illustrations of one form of commemoration practiced on St. Patrick's Day; the goal of this analysis is to create some sort of typology of commemorative orations. A complete analysis of St. Patrick's Day speeches in the period under discussion could, I hope, be based on the typology suggested here, but would require quantitative analysis before the value of the evidence could be fully exploited (how many speeches on which issues every year? Venues and attendance statistics?).

25. The New York Herald, no. 7391, March 18, 1853, p. 4 (or 6).

26. The Irish-American, Vol. V, no. 17, April 23, 1853, p. 1.

27. The Irish-American, Vol. V, no. 16, April 16, 1853, p. 1.

28. Brown, "Origins," op. cit., pp. 338-339.

29. The Irish-American, Vol. V., no. 17, April 23, 1853, p. 1.

30. The Irish-American, Vol. VII, no. 12, March 24, 1855, p. 2.

31. The Irish-American, Vol. VII, no. 12, March 24, 1855, p. 2.

32. Ibid.

33. The Irish World, vol. III, no. 29, March 22, 1873, p. 4.

34. By-laws and Charter (see note 4), p. 13.

35. "Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in the City of New York" in Michael Funchion, ed., Irish American Voluntary Organizations (Westport, CT, 1983), pp. 250-261.

36. The Irish-American, vol. VI, March 26, 1857, p. 1.

37. See The Irish-American, ibid.

38. See reference 6 above. See also John D. Crimmins St. Patrick's Day: Its Celebration in New York and Other American Places (New York, 1902), pp. 56-57.

39. From the "One Hundred and Twelfth Anniversary Dinner of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in the City of New York," 1896, cited in Crimmins, op. cit., pp. 44-45.

40. The Irish American, Vol. V., no. 13, March 26, 1853, p. 1.

41. Some of this information was kindly provided by John Ridge, author of The St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York. See also The New York Herald, vol. VII, no. 39/1716, March 18, 1841, p. 2; Herald, vol. XIII, no. 76/2673, March 18, 1847, p. 2; Herald, vol. XIV, no. 5042, March 18 1848, p. 2. In the March 18, 1849 Herald (vol. XV, no. 5399), a brief piece on page 4 mentions a small St. Patrick's Day parade in Baltimore.

42. The New York Herald, vol. XV, no. 5399, March 18, 1849, p. 2. The Irish-American, vol. XVIII, March 24, p. 2. The 1870 statistic is cited in Mary Ryan, "The American Parade: Representations of the Nineteenth-Century Social Order" in Lynn Hunt, ed., The New Cultural History (Berkeley, 1989), p. 145.

43. "Ancient Order of Hibernians in America" in Funchion, op. cit., pp. 50-52. See The Irish-American vol. XXVI, no. 13 (March, 1874), where the continued predominance of the AOH is noted.

44. The Irish-American, vol. XXVII, March 28, 1857, p. 1. In her study of the American parade as social representation, Mary Ryan makes some important points about "military and civil organizations" which are worth reprinting here: "Scattered in the line of march were a few occupational groups ... These contingents were outnumbered, however, by voluntary organizations of four sorts: fraternal orders, militia companies, temperance associations, and ethnic benefit societies. By mid century in each city, the press had devised a shorthand for describing the line of march, dividing these myriad groups into two categories: the military and civic societies. Such a simple schema could not hide a radical resorting of the cells of the ceremonial community - public group identity was now a matter of voluntary choice between such alternatives as national origins, fraternal associations, and even allegiances to a particular personal code such as temperance. The military contingents were not drafted into service, but made their public appearance as members of volunteer militia companies. Notoriously ill trained in the martial arts, these ubiquitous antebellum associations were devoted above all else to the sport of parading." - Ryan, op. cit., in Hunt, op. cit., p. 142.

What is striking about the St. Patrick's Day parade is that while it did involve all of the types of organizations which Ryan describes, it exhibited a development entirely opposite that laid out by Ryan. As it grew, all of the various organizations that marched regularly were subsumed under a single national unity: fraternal organizations, militia companies, temperance associations, and ethnic benefit societies were all recast in a nationalist mode, so that one marched as a Irish-American member of the Hibernian Benevolent society or the Ancient Order of the Hibernians.

45. See, for instance, Dennis Clark. The Irish Relations: Trials of an Immigrant Tradition (East Brunswick, NJ, 1982), chap. 13. Also Timothy J. Meagher, "'Why Should We Care for a Little Trouble or a Walk through the Mud': St. Patrick's Day and Columbus Day Parades in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1845-1915," The New England Quarterly LVIII, no. 1 (1985): 5-26.

46. See the April issues of The Irish-American for 1863-65; The Irish World, vol. 2, no. 29, March 23, 1872.

47. It should be noted that the parade figured forth a male and masculine community. Mary Ryan mentions the appearance of "comely young ladies, sometimes in carriages, sometimes on horseback, were given prominent places in St. Patrick's Day parades, playing the roles of both the Goddess of Liberty and the Maid of Erin." Ryan, op. cit., in Hunt, op. cit., p. 149. I found no mention of such marchers, though it may be that they appeared after the early 1870s. Regardless, Ryan is right in observing that such participation is hardly evidence of egalitarianism; on the contrary, there is a vast gap between use of women as symbols and their participation as real people. It is notable that many banners depicted Ireland as a woman, both mother and maiden, bowed down under the British yoke and in need of rescue by the brave heroes of Ireland and Irish blood. Though this paper lacks the room to enter into a serious discussion of gender issues, it is worth stressing that the nationalist memory formulated in this period and depicted in the parade had no place for Irish women, only for "the Irish woman" or Ireland as woman. Ryan's discussion of the parade as representation of the social order offers a lucid discussion of such gender issues and suggests ways in which further research into this topic could be pursued.

48. The Irish World, vol. III, no. 29, March 22, 1873, p. 4. On Ford, see William Joyce, Editors and Ethnicity: A History of the Irish-America Press 1848-1883 (New York, 1976).

49. For a relatively recent example, see Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge, 1983).

50. Natalie Zemon Davis' work on ritual and crowd violence is particularly relevant here. For an overview of her work which emphasizes its connection to symbolic anthropology, see Suzanne Desan. "Crowds, Community, and Ritual in the Work of E.P. Thompson and Natalie Davis" in Hunt, op. cit.

51. There is a wealth of literature in symbolic or interpretive anthropology on the nature and function of ritual by such noted scholars as Victor Turner, Barbara Myerhoff, Edmund Leach, and many others. For a concise survey of this literature in the context of a lucid analysis of outstanding issues in symbolic anthropology, see Zdzislaw Mach, "The Symbolic Construction of Identity" in Symbols, Conflict, and Identity (Albany, 1993). The quotation is taken from Ibid, p. 90.

52. The Irish World, Vol. II, No. 29, March 23, 1872, p. 5.

53. Ryan, op. cit., in Hunt, op. cit., pp. 145-146.

54. Quoted in Brown, "Origins," op. cit., p. 330.

55. David Kertzer. Ritual, Politics, and Power (New Haven, 1988), p. 23.
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