Irish immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries brought with many Irish traditions in music, dance, sport and even mythology that we accept as routine today. Many early Irish settled in the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains, while later Irish immigrants tended to settle in cities like Boston, New York and Cincinnati.
St Patrick Day and Irish American Heritage Month: St. Patrick died on 17 March 461 AD after a long life of preaching the word of Christ. His feast day is celebrated world-wide. In explaining how God is one being made up of three distinct persons St. Patrick used a Shamrock to explain how the three persons of God are one being.
Since 1991 successive U.S. Presidents have designated March to be Irish American Heritage Month. In 1992, Congress passed Public Law 102-253 which designated March as Irish-American Heritage Month. IAHM is recognized by the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress and the National Archives. It is a month-long celebration of Irish heritage, culture and traditions in schools and the media.
Music: Music plays a big part in Irish lives and many venues across the island host live music. Traditional Irish music typically employs world instruments such as the fiddle, piano and acoustic guitar combined with home-grown instruments like Irish bouzoukis (mandolin-like), Uilleann pipes, the bodhrán (that handheld Irish drum) and the Celtic harp (cláirseach), the official symbol of Ireland. Bagpipes and kilts keep Irish eyes smiling during parades, weddings, and other festivities. Music is integral to Irish community life with local public houses as places where families can enjoy informal jam sessions and meet friends to catch-up on what’s new. The history of bluegrass music begins with 17th century Irish immigrants who brought basic styles of music considered to be the roots of modern bluegrass music.
Dance: Irish dancing became internationally popular in the 1990s after the success of Riverdance but Irish dance takes many forms including jigs, reels, step dancing and céili dances. Irish dancing also has a unique fashion sense, with dresses based on designs found in the Book of Kells and the famous hard shoes that produce clicks in time to the movements of the dance were developed in the 19th Century. The clicking noises came from the wooden heels and toes of the shoes. Today there are hundreds of Irish Dance schools in 45 states! In all likelihood this may be the origin of Appalachian folk clogging, another dance done in time with the music. The word “clog” comes from the Gaelic and means “time”.
Halloween: The Irish brought our custom of Halloween (and bobbing for apples) to America in the 1840s as they fled An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger). Actually it dates to 4000 B.C. when the Celtic lunar calendar date for “summer’s end” was celebrated on October 31. They called it Samhain (All Hallowtide or the Feast of the Dead) the day when spirits of the previous year’s deceased would return in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. On the night of October 31, villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes to make them inhospitable, dress in ghoulish costumes, and noisily parade through the neighborhood to frighten the spirits away. Druid priests would throw the cattle bones of cattle into a large fire and over time “bone fire” became “bonfire”. When the Catholic Church designated November1st as All Saints Day (All Hallows), the night before became known as All Hallows Eve which became Halloween.
Carving pumpkins: This tradition most likely originated in Irish folklore. An Irishman named Jack being tempted by the devil, tricked Satan into climbing a tree. Jack then carved a cross into the trunk, trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil. If the devil would never tempt him again, he would let him down. According to legend, when Jack died he was denied entrance to heaven because of his evil ways and hell because he had tricked the devil. The devil gave Jack a single ember to light his way through the darkness. To keep the ember burning Jack placed the ember inside a hollowed out turnip (the Jack O’ Lantern). Originally turnips were used as “Jack’s lanterns”, but when the Irish came to America they found pumpkins to be more plentiful.
The Leprechaun is the most famous Irish mythological figures and one of Ireland’s most beloved symbols. He stands about two-feet-tall, has a twinkle in his eye and spends his time making tiny shoes rosy cheeks — usually under a bridge. Theses unfriendly little souls are hard to find. We all know Leprechauns hide their pots of gold at the end of a rainbow.
Gaelic Games are Ireland’s amateur sports, but there’s nothing amateur about the style of play. The most popular Gaelic game is Gaelic football, a game that originated in the 14th Century. The version played today was developed in the late 19th Century. Other important sports are hurling, camogie (female version of hurling), Gaelic handball and rounders. Hurling dates from more than over 3,000 years ago. For Celtic warriors like Cú Chulainn and Fionn mac Cumhail the Hurley stick was a weapon. The Gaelic Athletic Association is an Irish international amateur sports organization that promotes Gaelic games.
Irish Literature: We’re all familiar with Gulliver’s Travels, Dracula, Ulysses, and Finnegan’s Wake, all created by Irish writers. We should also be familiar with the works and writings of George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, and Seamus Heaney
Claddagh Ring: The Claddagh ring (Irish: fáinne Claddagh) is a traditional Irish ring representing love, loyalty, and friendship (the hands represent friendship, the heart represents love, and the crown represents loyalty). The design and customs originated in Claddagh a fishing village in County Galway I the 17th century.
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