With St. Patrick’s Day today, it is only proper to salute those who have assisted in establishing organized and fully functioning first response mechanisms inside this great nation. As folklore states, St. Patrick once extinguished the snakes on the green emerald isle; well, history reveals that the Irish in America have historically fought to extinguish many snakes in the “Land of the Free.” Today, those American “defenders” deserve a salute.
As immigrants fleeing a land torn by famine and unruly monarch control, stepping off seafaring vessels, the Irish were often immediately handed rifles to join the Union during the Civil War. Many did not know the English language rather spoke in their Irish tongue, a variant of the Celtic language. Their actions in the civil war go unnoticed even today as books have been written about the “Fighting Irish.” Their heroism and battle cry often observed in the 69th Regiment, fág an bealach (translated to “clear the way”), promoted much deserved respect amongst not only their fellow Union counterparts but the Confederate enemy who they so gallantly fought.
Life for the Irish living in the United States wasn’t easy. Even with their heroism displayed during the Civil War, the good majority were observed as outcasts due to illiteracy and foreign tongue spoken. The display of hatred towards the Irish could be observed through the extremely accurate award winning 2002 movie “Gangs of New York.” But even with such hatred, the Irish eventually prevailed to live as respected citizens to this great nation.
With a plethora of signs saying “No Irish Need Apply,” they were often forced into low paying and extremely dangerous occupations performing such duties with respect and dignity. With often proclaimed sentiments like, "Let Negroes be servants, and if not Negroes, let Irishmen fill their place...," the Irish settled into coal mining, chamber maids, cooks, and civil service industries.
As a means to integrate into mainstream America, many Irish joined first responder occupations such as firefighters and police officers. Even these occupations were harsh, offered only low pay, and lacked benefits. Many believe that if not for the Irish, organized and fully functioning fire and police departments would not be in existence today. By the twentieth century, not only did the Irish perform such duties, they often-times ran such organizations as Chiefs of Police and Fire Chiefs.
Enriched with history, the one-time despised Irish immigrants of yesterday have prevailed today. America has witnessed Irish American military units recognition of heroism such as the Fighting 69th, famed performing artists such as Jackie Gleason, businessmen like Henry Ford from the Ford Motor Company, Supreme Court Justice’s such as Sandra Day O’Connor, and even Irish American Presidents such as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. The list of contributions to America’s great success is abundant but nothing should be more recognized than that which the Irish had succeeded in ensuring the “land of the free” would remain just that -- free.
Today, local chapter Emerald Societies exists to promote and enhance the truest understandings of the contributions which the Irish defenders invoked. Virtually every major police and fire department inside the United States has its own Emerald Society. The society was formed to help foster the spirit of the heritage within its members and to promote and preserve their accomplishments. On the federal level, the Emerald Society of the Federal Law Enforcement Agencies has also been established.
E.S.F.L.E.A. was recognized and chartered by the National Conference of Law Enforcement Emerald Societies as the only nationwide organization of federal law enforcement and public safety personnel of Irish and Gaelic descent.
Today, its membership stems across the globe with American Irish descendants serving in Canada, Europe, Asia, and even war torn nations like Afghanistan and Iraq. These heroes’ will always be Americans first and their history displays a will and desire to continue such contributions of deterrence, detection, and detainment of those who seek to rid us from peace and prosperity.
While St. Patrick may or may not have truly extinguished all snakes on the green emerald isle, make no mistake about it, Irish Americans have surely done their part here inside the United States.
During the time when “every American becomes Irish for the day,” take a minute to think about the Irish and their contributions to this great nation. It is only right to present a salute of praise knowing their contributions as some of the first organized first responders in the “Land of the Free;” embraced under the motto “In God We Trust.”
Kerry Patton has served in the U.S. Defense and Justice departments, and as a contractor within the Homeland Security and State departments. He has worked in South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, focusing on intelligence and security interviewing current and former terrorists, including members of the Taliban.
He is the author of “Sociocultural Intelligence: The New Discipline of Intelligence Studies.” His upcoming children’s book titled “American Patriotism” is to be released in the upcoming weeks. He is also the president of the SOCINT Institute and serves as the Vice President of the Emerald Society of the Federal Law Enforcement Agencies.