St. Patrick's Day and the American Revolution

The American Revolutionary War, as it involved Irish American immigrants, was almost a civil war in nature, as Irish soldiers fought both for the American Continental Army and for the British. Infused with the spirit of independence, large numbers of Irish fought for the freedom promised by a new beginning with a government based on individual rights
St. Patrick
not yet known in the old world. In many ways, this spirt and the actions taken across the Atlantic from the Old Sod, were precursors to the battles yet to be fought for rights of independence for Ireland itself, and eventually for Northern Ireland.

Following the War of Independence, Irish Americans displayed their fervor for the new nation in celebrations, and in parades, not only on 17 March for St. Patrick's Day, but also on in fourth of July parades honoring the new nation.

Many Irish did more than just take up muskets to aide the new nation, many also participated in the formulation of the new government. Thomas McKean, for example, whose parents came from Ireland to American as young children, was the 8th President
of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Three other signers were born in Ireland: Matthew Thornton, George Taylor and James Smith.

It was in the mid-1790s that the Charitable Irish Society of Boston began again, after several decades, to hold its annual dinners on St. Patrick's Day. This gave new impetus to establishing the holiday as a very special day in Irish society, as the elite of Boston's Irish community attended, including in 1797, Secretary of War Henry Knox. The society
collected pricey fees to attend, all to the benefit of Boston's Irish needy.

Catholic immigration from Ireland began to increase in the 1780s, and continued to do so for the next 40 years, as religious freedoms in the new USA were more than attractive to Catholics in Ireland, who were faced with ongoing restrictions on their religious practices. This wave of Catholics into American Irish society included new members gaining control of various organizations, including the Charitable Irish Society of Boston, and the effect was readily seen in St. Patrick's Day celebrations. While the wealthy Protestant elite had observed subdued and generally private celebrations, the more vocal and vibrant Irish Catholic personality introduced more enthusiastic public festivities.

Through the early 1800s an interesting phenomenon was becoming increasingly obvious: Irish fervor and excitement for celebration became more and more directed to nationalism, and St. Patrick's Day events began taking a backseat to Fourth of July festivities. Irish Catholic immigration had been slowing due to emigration restrictions placed on Catholics by the British, but by the late 1820s, liberalized rules were passed, resulting in a new influx of Irish Catholics to America, and with it, renewed fervor for celebrating the day of St. Patrick.

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