Mary Sugrue: A St. Patrick's Day message during a time of crisis

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We all yearn for connection. For ways to understand our ancestral past, to demonstrate our gratitude for the brave generations who came before us, and to tether ourselves in an uncertain world. For me, this connection is most palpable in the radiant warmth and close relationship of the Irish and Irish American people, which we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day.

When I was growing up in rural County Kerry, Ireland, there was no merriment in packed pubs, no green sweaters, no parading of bagpipers, and certainly no green beer to mark St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, on this holy day of obligation, the only place we went was mass.

Yet, the celebration of connection was still at the fore. Fresh pieces of shamrock or green badges with the Irish harp symbol were pinned neatly to our chests as we sat in the pews beaming with pride in our patron saint, in our country, and in one another.

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After the common Irish narrative of emigration became my own, I still have those badges tucked away in a drawer. Until my mother passed away, no matter where I was in the world, she would mail me the shamrock every year. How I enjoyed opening that envelope with her scrawled handwriting, holding a little piece of home in my hands.

A man dressed as St Patrick walks past a closed bar in Dublin city centre, Monday, March, 16, 2020. All pubs in the Republic of Ireland closed late Sunday to try and tackle the spread of Covid-19. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.(AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

A man dressed as St Patrick walks past a closed bar in Dublin city centre, Monday, March, 16, 2020. All pubs in the Republic of Ireland closed late Sunday to try and tackle the spread of Covid-19. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems.(AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

On St. Patrick’s Day, the message from the land of a thousand welcomes is as clear as Waterford crystal:

You may be miles away or an ocean apart, but you are always close to our hearts.

Having called the United States home for some time now, I am heartened that Americans celebrate this sense of connection on St. Patrick’s Day—whether first or fifth generation Irish, or claiming no formal relation at all.

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Moving to the U.S., the land which sets the standard for St. Patrick’s Day revelry, and which my native Ireland has also now embraced, has only intensified my love for the holiday—not least of all because everyone proudly dons green and gold, the colors of my beloved Kerry footballers).

St. Patrick’s Day allows us to engage at a soulful level on the pure joy of being Irish. It is a day to spread cheer and share the Irish zeal for life. It is a day that symbolizes the centrality of heritage and one’s roots.

It is a day to fly the Irish flag, literally and figuratively, to share our unique culture, our language, our rich literary tradition, our music, and our deep sense of community.

It is a day when nostalgia is accepted, scenes of green hills abound, Guinness, soda bread, potatoes, and corned beef or bacon are shared with family, friends, and friends we have not yet met.

Above all, it is a day when feeling Irish runs deep through your core, whether Irish by birth, descent--or not at all.  No matter the percentage of Irish DNA coursing through your veins, it still flows as green as the Chicago River. St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of our collective humanity and what we can accomplish together.

In my work with the Irish American Partnership, I have witnessed the undeniable power of connecting people to the places and people they hold dear. It is this principle of belonging that is crucial to resilience in the face of adversity, and that lies at the heart of the Irish and American spirits.

I am privileged to know so many people who are committed to working together to ensure a bright future on both sides of the Atlantic.

From business leaders who expand their operations to Ireland, to teachers who educate and inspire the next generation of Irish leaders, to hardworking doctors, nurses, and peace keepers who care, nurture and bring Irish humor to those in need, all prove the old Irish adage true -- there is no strength without togetherness, ní neart go cur le chéile.

Though our celebrations will be very different this year, my cherished St. Patrick’s Day message of courage, trust, solidarity, and understanding could not be more timely.

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Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all.