Editorial: Celebrating Irish-American Heritage Month

It’s March. Not only does that mean February — the longest 28 days on the calendar — is finally over, it also heralds in exciting events such as Mardi Gras, Women’s History Month, March Madness, Lent, the first day of spring, and of course St. Patrick’s Day. And, it is also Irish-American Heritage Month.

From the earliest Colonial days to the present, somewhere around 6 million Irish have immigrated to America’s shores. Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted almost half of all immigrants to the U.S. Since 1991, U.S. presidents of both political parties have set aside March to celebrate the enormous contributions Irish-Americans have made. From fighting in the Revolutionary War to building the Transcontinental Railroad to residing in the White House, the Irish have played an undisputed role in America’s history. As the 2019 presidential proclamation states: “Generations of Irish immigrants have carried to our shores character, culture, and values that continue to play pivotal roles in the strength and success of America.”

About 32 million Americans — around 10 percent of the U.S. population — claim Irish ancestry. Speaking at a Tourism Ireland summit held in Washington last week, the Irish ambassador noted that with the growing popularity of DNA genealogy testing, that number is expected to increase significantly.

So, today, we give a shout-out to our friends across the pond. The two countries have long shared deeply affectionate and nostalgic ties. Twenty-two U.S. presidents have claimed Irish ancestry. Seven have visited the old country. Who can forget one president’s visit to Ollie Hayes’ pub in Ireland when the commander in chief quipped, “My name is Barack Obama, of the Moneygall Obamas, and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe we lost somewhere along the way”?

With the exception of the 1.6 million visitors from Eire’s next-door neighbor, Great Britain, far more U.S. tourists visit Ireland — 870,000 in 2017 — than any other country. And Americans spend more money and stay much longer in the Emerald Isle than other tourists.  TOP ARTICLES2/2READ MORELohmann: Playing tourist in our own backyard

Despite suffering deeply from the crash of the Celtic Tiger in 2008, the little nation recovered quickly. It is thriving by just about every indicator. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom rates Ireland’s economic freedom score at 80.5 — “making its economy the 6th freest in the 2019 Index.” Ireland also has the highest birth rate, most stable families, and the longest marriages of any European nation.

Typical of that famous Irish luck and just in time for Irish-American Heritage Month, Irish tourism just received a big boost from SmarterTravel.com. On Friday, the travel website released a list of the top 10 safest countries in the world to visit. Ireland scored the highest. As the website notes, Eire is “low on terrorism, political violence, and militarization. The State Department gives it a level one (the safest) advisory level.” The ancient land has continuously been ranked by dozens of tourism and travel companies as one of the best places to visit and home to some of the friendliest people on Earth.

And so this month, we raise a glass to our friends and relatives across the sea. Erin go bragh!

— Robin Beres

*Reprinted from Richmond Times Dispatch

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