What do the hypodermic needle, tractor, submarine, tank, periscope, stethoscope, caterpillar track,endoscope and first true steam turbine have in common? Well, they have the same thing in common with artificial fertilizer, nickel zinc rechargeable batteries, the ejector seat, the guided missile, and high speed photography. They were all invented by the Irish. In terms of science, the induction coil and the self-extracting dynamo changed the way we produced power. The Irish invented them. Boyle’s law, Stokes Parameters and the Beaufort Wind Scale? Named after their Irish inventors.
In the realm of health care, the discoveries and inventions range from Milk of Magnesia, to ways to use Radium through Radon as a treatment for cancer. Irish scientists were responsible for treatments for Leprosy, as well. . Irish scientists were the first to split the atom. An Irishman created the light pipe, paving the way for fiber optics. They created advances in seismology, physics, math, and health care.
Here in Massachusetts, we know what a tremendous role the Irish have played in society. Our government has been populated with Irish and Irish American from our present Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh, through the State House, in Washington and across Town Halls throughout the state and throughout our entire history. Many of our most successful elected officials are of Irish Descent. House Speaker Tip O’Neill and the Kennedy family are but a few. Their contributions to our government and way of life have not only shaped our society in Massachusetts but throughout the US.
My point, obviously, is that the Irish played a very major role in science, literature, music, and government. They should get credit for that. In fact, there may not be a society without the Irish or at least a world that looks very different. After the fall of Rome, it was Irish monks who traveled Europe at great personal risk to collect books and knowledge. They brought these back to Ireland where they kept language, literature and culture alive until they could reintroduce these to the rest of the world.
It is distressing that these accomplishments are not celebrated when we think of St Patrick’s Day. It is not surprising that some students and locals around UMass Amherst celebrate the day with a “Blarney Blowout”. I stress some students,Most UMass Students are hard working and focused on studies.But events like this continue the stereotype of the Irish for the next generation. It is not just this incident. Walmart sold cheap t-shirts this year that had sayings such as “I’m not Irish, but I drink like I am” or “Blame the Irish for my behavior”. The fact that these retailers stereotype this holiday should be unacceptable to us all. Don’t get me wrong, I love an Irish pub song and a Guinness as much as the next person, but as proud as I am that the Irish have been selling Guinness since 1759, I am more proud that Trinity College has been educating and giving scholarships to students since 1592! (The Medical School was established in 1711 and the Center for Molecular Medicine just won an award for cell imaging).
The Irish helped build our infrastructure in America, our bridges and railroads. They fought in our wars, sometimes as their own regiment. They’ve bled for us, have formed philanthropic organizations to better our condition and have provided us with culture and more stories than we can ever hear. I only wish some students were celebrating that heritage and culture as they raised a pint.
More than the students, I am disappointed that in all the stories I read about this Blarney Blowout, I haven’t read one response from school officials criticizing the depiction of the Irish embedded in the incident. I have read that the incident is bad for the university and that drunken behavior isn’t tolerated, but not one mention has been made over the depiction of the Irish. What a shame. The UMass campuses of Boston and Lowell actually have Irish studies courses. The Amherst campus doesn’t. I am proud of my state university. My daughter received her degree there. However, their response to this should have been to create a campus event to educate students. They should have an event to celebrate the accomplishments of this proud and ancient culture that influenced the development of Europe as a counterbalance to the prevailing attitude that St Patrick’s Day is a drunken bash.
I hope everyone has fun on St Patrick’s Day. I hope you go out and lift a pint or two and listen to some Irish music in celebration of the day. But I also hope that you raise a glass and think of the many wonderful contributions of the Irish here and throughout the world. That’s the real celebration! Slainte!