My Ambivalence About St. Patrick's Day

Given my surname, I feel mixed about celebrating St. Patrick's Day. I am Irish; in fact, three quarters so. I am descended from the Lennons, the Abbotts, the McCarthys, the Eagans. My cousins include the Kanes, the Runyons, the Flynns and the Russells. I am as Irish as an American can be, except for the German name inherited from my father's father, who had married Catherine Eagan.

Friends, fellow St. Paulites, please consider my dilemma. I am solidly St. Paul Irish. My grandfather attended St. Paul Academy as a classmate of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and knew him. But will I proudly march with the prominent Irish families in my city's St. Patrick's Day Parade? No. I'd attended some of those parades in my early years. During the festivities, someone would invariably ask for my name, which I admitted with a shrug was McBride.

I blame St. Luke's Elementary for planting the corrosive Catholic guilt that sears across my chest as the lies pile higher. In fact, so pathetic is my neurotic attachment to honesty that the Internal Revenue Service is sole entity to which I can lie to with glee.

So, it hurts to be "Stieger" on St. Patrick's Day. The insult weaves through the miserable narrative of my life. It catches me at each station. My first wife was a girl of Norwegian heritage who was an eighth Irish, but carried one of the great Irish names. The only thing Irish about her was her temper, which seemed to have survived the cross-breeding: she was a woman who could start an argument in an empty room.

Another aspect of St. Patrick's Day that grinds does not concern my name. It is this: annually, I ask myself, Why do we Irish work so hard to perpetuate every derelict stereotype of our race on St. Patrick's Day? Stand at curbside as drunken louts in leprechaun suits stumble down Wabasha Street, blowing plastic stadium horns. March beside Elvis Presleys in Green Pompadours. Witness the bleary eyed teens as they upchuck green beer on the sidewalk.

Do you think I exaggerate? Read the messages on the horrific buttons and sweatshirts these revelers wear to degrade the tribe: "10 percent Irish/90 percent beer," or "Member of the official Irish drinking team!" Check out pervy intonations, like "Erin Go Braghless," or "Kiss my Shamrocks," or my favorite of all: "I'm starting a drunken brawl with the first person who stereotypes the Irish."

I mean, please! Can you name another ethnic group so bent on its own self abasement? Imagine any other culture or ethnic group frolicking in costumes and behaving in a manner that perpetuates the stereotypes of bigots. None do it. But Irish Americans insist on acting like the clowns at their own circus.

And what about Mr. St. Patrick himself? Patrick was born in 5th century Roman Brittania. He was kidnapped at 16 by pagan raiders and sold into slavery in Ireland. A few years afterward Patrick escaped and returned to his family in Britannia. He later sailed back to Ireland after becoming a cleric, and was eventually ordained bishop.

Though not much is known of the historical St. Patrick, the St. Patrick of Irish lore was said to have rid Ireland of its snakes. Scientists now agree that Ireland's watery isolation makes it near certain that snakes never inhabited the island, though many ascribe their absence to Patrick. Ditching the snakes was Pat's contribution to his nation? Snakes. Big deal. The story I would've hoped for would be for Patrick to come along ten centuries later and used his holy powers to rid Ireland of the British. Where was the old boy during the troubles?

So, you'll not see this Stieger joining the parades this coming St. Patrick's Day. He will, however, raise a glass in remembrance of the great Irish writers -- Swift, Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, O'Connor and Shaw, among others. And, if asked, yes, I will gladly kiss their Shamrocks.