On this very special episode of the Irish Baseball Podcast, host Rick Becker is joined by Mike Cronin to discuss the history of the holiday.  Cronin is the Academic Director for Boston College Ireland. In the second segment, John Fitzgerald joins Rick to about Baseball United’s newest youth baseball program in Ireland.

Podcast Transcript:

Announcer 0:01
Top o’ the Inning to ya! Welcome to the Irish Baseball podcast brought to you by the Irish American Baseball Society. If you love baseball, and if you love Ireland, stay tuned for a discussion of all things Irish baseball.

Rick Becker 0:15
Hello, and welcome to episode 31 of the Irish baseball podcast. I’m your host, Rick Becker. And as you might imagine, today’s show is going to be focused on St. Patrick’s Day. First Professor Mike Cronin in the Academic Director of Boston College, Ireland will be here to talk about the history of St. Patrick’s Day. After that, we’ll be joined by John Fitzgerald, who’s the founder of the Irish American baseball society and the baseball United foundation. John will be discussing another program that baseball United foundation is embarking upon in Ireland, you can always visit Irish baseball.org and baseball United foundation.org. For more information right now, let’s welcome Mike Cronin to the Irish baseball podcast. Thanks for joining us, Mike.

Mike Cronin 0:59
Thanks, Rick. Good to be here.


Rick Becker 1:00
So the first thing that I want to discuss actually, I don’t know if even a lot of our listeners know about this, but you are the Academic Director of Boston College Ireland. What is Boston College Ireland,

Mike Cronin 1:14
Very simply Boston College, Ireland is Boston College, Massachusetts, in Ireland, back in about 2000, BC purchased some properties in the center of Dublin. So we service BC students who are studying abroad in Ireland, during term time during the summertime, we run some research project, we run some faculty of changes. So it’s just a home away from home for campus. Really,

Rick Becker 1:39
that is awesome. Now, I know one of the reasons that we wanted to have you on at this time of year specifically, is so much of your knowledge about St. Patrick’s Day, especially how it relates to the United States. So I just kind of want to get started talking about that a little bit. And the history of St. Patrick’s Day.

Mike Cronin 2:02
Sure. I mean, I think one thing for a start is obviously to acknowledge for anybody listening who maybe enjoys some Patrick David doesn’t necessarily think about it is just how exceptional St. Patrick’s Day is, I think, you know, around the world had lots of national holidays. But I doubt whether the streets of Boston, Chicago, New York, wherever are full of people celebrating Bastille Day, or out, you know, in Europe, we wouldn’t necessarily celebrate the Fourth of July. And yet here’s Ireland, small place small population, whose national holiday is literally celebrated around the world. So if you think about in the last few years, the Irish Tourist Board and the embassies of Ireland around the world has worked to have all a major kind of iconic Global Buildings lit green on St. Patrick’s Day. So we’re thinking the, you know, the Eiffel Tower, we’re thinking the Colosseum in Rome, Big Ben in London, the Jesus statue in Sao Paulo, etc, etc. And they pulled it off. So last year, even in the middle of a pandemic, something around. I think it’s nearly 500 buildings when lit green on St. Patrick’s Day. Now no other country pulls that off. And yet little old Island again, this National Day is that kind of idea. That buzzword, you know, St. Patrick’s Day is a day where everybody can be Irish. You know, you don’t you don’t say Don’t say that about Bastille Day, Today’s a day everybody can be French just doesn’t have the same appeal. So I think before we get into talking about the history of it, I think it’s just acknowledging how significant is it? It’s the one day in the year that genuinely certainly in North America is hugely significant that almost irrespective of your own ethnicity, or heritage, you’re going to maybe go to a parade drink a pint of green beer share an extra you know, exchange a greetings card, you’re alert to the idea that it is indeed St. Patrick’s Day, hugely significant.

Rick Becker 3:56
So I guess that gets into it, then how did this significance propagate itself?

Mike Cronin 4:02
Yeah, so I mean, one thing to acknowledge straight off the bat is every party, almost in contravention to I just said you think instantly of St. Patrick’s Day you think about Island, St. Patrick’s Day did not begin in the way we think about it now in Ireland began in the US. St. Patrick, obviously, is the Irish patron saint that’s coming in very, very early. You see a kind of religious worship of St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland running from the 16th century. So Irish people are very aware of some Patrick, it’s clearly a holy day. It’s a feast day. It’s kind of LinkedIn to see where we are in the middle of March. We’re linked into the beginning of spring. But Ireland doesn’t generate early on the idea that sympatric day to day for parading or merrymaking, I mean, you’ve got to remember the pubs in Ireland that closed on St. Patrick’s day until the late 1960s. So it’s not a day which is all about drinking, partying. And parading as much later. So you’re going to look to America. And what you see in the 18th century is Irish members of the then British Army in the US, who are celebrating their national day. Being military types they parade. And there’s an old tradition where that parade in front of their commanding officers house, noisily with their bands and their drums. And the idea was until he handed over money, so they’re going by few drinks, that keep annoying him. And then finally, he’d come out, given that gift and that parade away. And you see that it develops in the US that some Patrick’s there’s of presences. It’s, you have things like the charitable sons of St. Patrick’s staff in Boston, which is a kind of high dining kind of elite Irish institution, you have, obviously Catholic churches growing up, as Irish immigration gets going into the 18th and 19th century, so become part of the furniture. But then critically, I think things change in the second half of the 19th century, particularly the big kind of Irish cities, the Boston’s and New York’s that kind of thing. The Irish arrived in huge numbers, they’re opposed by kind of the nativist Americans. And yet they need to demonstrate their power. So alongside that kind of whole story that you get where the Irish take jobs in, you know, the fire brigade, the police, they get involved in City Hall politics, they get involved in trade unions, they then obviously say, Look, we’re going to celebrate our national day, this is going to be awesome, we’re going to march down Fifth Avenue, wherever it may be. And they do that, because they control City Hall, but in 19th century, they’re not letting anybody else do it. And that’s a critical point that is not only about showing off your National Day, it’s showing off your political power, that you can go down Fifth Avenue, you can stop all the businesses, you can close the shops, you can put a green line down the middle of Fifth Avenue, you can do that nobody else can. And I think that is you’ve got to understand it in terms of emigration in terms of power. And I think what happened in the 20th century, it’s a way it then spreads to everybody else. Do you get the importation of shamrock you get Hallmark Cards began manufacturing, St. Patrick’s Day cards just before the First World War, it starts featuring in popular culture, you get the rise of corned beef and cabbage as the meal for St. Patrick’s Day, the supermarket chain start buying into it just before the Second World War. And basically it then becomes this holiday that’s open to everybody. And because in a way the Irish get their first get them noisiest. It’s a day that all Americans buy into. Look at it. Now. I mean, apart from I think Thanksgiving and Superbowl Sunday, more food more drink is sold on St. Patrick’s Day than any other day in the US, worth $5 billion a year.

Rick Becker 7:46
And I know this isn’t necessarily your area of expertise. But would you say that St. Patrick’s Day parades, especially in big cities like Boston, and New York lead to other ethnicities and other nationalities, sort of creating their own parades to show off their pride in their heritage, like the Puerto Rican Day parade that happens in New York every year? Is this a way that the Irish sort of inspired other people to take pride in their own cultures?

Mike Cronin 8:20
Yeah, I think it’s part and parcel of the kind of the broader kind of American immigration ethnicity story. That you’re right, that kind of things like the Puerto Rican parade, etc, that what people begin to understand you say the Italians do it. With a lot of parades to churches, on particular feast days, there, the big Italian days are very public, very noisy. It takes different forms, given which kind of ethnic group you’re talking about. But that need to proclaim your own space, especially in cities, where city let cities are delineated by kind of race as delineated by urban space and so on. It’s really significant that other kind of ethnicities by the Irish, the key point is probably nobody’s as long standing. I think it’s different to the artists, it doesn’t inspire other people in the same color, huge numbers to get involved and actually begin their own parades and days. So I mean, you have a whole network of cities now across the US, who have quite significant St. Patrick’s Day, events, parades, fairs, whatever it may be, but they have no kind of Irish tradition. And I don’t think that’s true of the other parades, the other parades are still very kind of specifically ethnic.

Rick Becker 9:28
So now we’ve seen how this all started in the United States. Now, how did it end up moving over back to Ireland, and then from Ireland, out to the rest of the world?

Mike Cronin 9:41
Yeah. So I mean, what happened in Ireland is you have the first parade in a way where, within the confines of Dublin Castle, Dublin Castle would have been the kind of headquarters of the British in Ireland during the 19th century. They would have had a military parade again, but it would have been very much for the elite to watch and to enjoy. And really in a way apart from that nothing happened. So when when the independent Irish date is formed in 1922, they begin first what is just a military parade to celebrate the patron say day. So if you’ve got a completely dry day, you’ve got a church service in the morning. And you’ve got a bunch of kind of soldiers and small armored vehicles rumbling by, and that’s your lot. It’s kind of fairly dull. It’s really after the Second World War, the island kind of thick Irish, Ireland obviously doesn’t produce much in the world, it begins to realize that one of its big businesses is tourism, that if you can get your incoming American dollars, or British Sterling, or whatever it may be into Ireland on tourist numbers, that’s good for business. And they see some Patrick’s day as a day that everybody else understands. But in a way, there’s nothing to watch in Ireland. So in the 1950s, a beginning industrial Parade, which by the 1960s is deliberately dealing with the US. They’re flying into the US, they’re looking at the New York parade, the Boston parade, the Chicago parade, they’re down to Savannah. And because of that point, St. Patrick’s Day, or the idea of parading is very much an American notion. They start playing in things like college and high school marching bands, to Dublin, so that people in Dublin Tang there in the cold and rain, get to see what they think, is a real Parade, which is an American one. So literally, you get the float, then you’ll get an American marching band, and you’ll get a float, then you’ve got another American marching band. And it becomes for a while this kind of strange hybrid kind of Irish American event. But it does work as a tourist spectacle, that if you look at the reports every year, they’re very alive to the idea how many flights were sold, how many beds, nights were sold. It’s there as a revenue raiser as well as a kind of National Day. It’s all reformed in 1996, or the beginning of the Celtic Tiger, kind of Irish economic expansion. And what you see then is the invention of what’s now called in running obviously, for 20 odd years, the St. Patrick’s Festival, which is a multi day event, which is centered around kind of Ireland and Irish creativity. So the centerpiece is the parade. But around that you’ll get music events and museums all tend to do something special. You may get kind of public dancing events of a big Keighley treasure hunts for the kids this idea it really is come to Dublin enjoy four days of this to celebrate this Irish National Moment. In answer your second question running away, how did it go global, there’s two parts to understanding that one of simply is just understanding where the Irish themselves go. So if you look at the big hubs of Irish emigration, the US, Canada, Australasia, South Africa to to degree, anywhere the Irish are, you’ll get some Patrick’s Day, parades, etc. The big change in a way comes towards the end of the 20th century, when the way the patterns of Irish emigration began to change a little bit, so the Irish are showing up in places like Shanghai, Singapore, Beijing, Tokyo, you know, they’re there when you buy that when the Middle East opens up, because they’re now as well as the kind of the Irish immigrant labor. They’re also the Irish American Graduate accountant who’s off to work the big finance firms. And these are some of the people who start the parades in their new homes. But the big thing that helps them is Diageo, the multinational company, Guinness, who is interested in opening Irish bars all around the world. And if you want Matt from the kind of 1980s 1990s, the explosion of St. Patrick’s Day festivities around the world, if you map that against the Guinness openings of Irish bars, there’s a real synergy between the two. So if you kind of understand why does Tokyo start a parade? Well, does the official agency of the Irish embassy will be involved. There is an a network of Irish people living in Tokyo. But there’s also a network of Irish pubs. So don’t just come into the Irish Pub be a bit of stew and you find a Guinness come here on 17th of March because it’s got to be the best day ever. And that’s replicated in Beijing and Sydney and Perth, in Lagos in Cape Town is across the world. And you now look at the sheer number of parades and events around the world. It’s astronomical, genuinely a global phenomenon. And I think that’s why it does differ from your idea of kind of, not your idea, but you when you mentioned earlier about other national days, you know, you do have a Puerto Rican day, whether it’s a Puerto Rican population living in New York, but you don’t have a Puerto Rican Day in France, Germany, Italy, etc, etc. And I think that’s the difference with the Irish. You’ve got, first of all the huge diaspora, but you’ve also also got overladen with it, a very savvy marketing machine on behalf of the government but also linked to it. A very savvy marketing campaign linked with pints of Guinness.

Rick Becker 15:11
So if any of us found ourselves in Shanghai on March 17, one year, and we saw there St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, would they look similar to what we’re expecting from one here? Or would they look completely different? Does it take on the culture of the place where it’s located? Or is it still just 100%? That Irish feel

Mike Cronin 15:37
this? I think this is a brilliant question. Right? This is right at the heart of the big discussion in a way is, is it this one size fits all? Or does it mutate? I think when I first started looking at this, I think I had the view that I was just going to be about Irishness and whether you’re in Shanghai or Boston, it’s all the same. I think I realized over the course the certain key elements that look familiar, so you know, you’ll have a lot of green, obviously, you’ll have some sense of some Patrick maybe there as a kind of somebody dressed up or some Patrick or pictures of some Patrick, you know that there, you’ll have a local you know, whatever the local Gaelic Athletic Club is, whatever the local Irish society is, they’ll all be there. So there’s going to be certain aspects are familiar, but then it’s going to be things where it starts breaking apart that you know, you do have another familiarity across the world, actually, Irish dancing is huge everywhere. So the Irish dancing troupe in Shanghai, or Boston will be there. But again, we’ll be different because clearly, if you’re in Shanghai, you’re not talking about Irish and Dre, Irish Jasper people, locals are getting involved. So they’re not bringing the same kind of need to connect with home. They’re just saying, Well, hey, it’s an Patrick’s Day. How are we going to do it? And you know, they might bring a, you know, in Shanghai, they might bring a Chinese Dragon to the parade, you know, might be colored green for the day, but they’re going to kind of embrace their kind of street theatre with the idea of being in a Irish parade, not by being Irish, but by being themselves. So I think this kind of locality becomes important. I think, again, another manifestation. If you arrived, Rick into Dublin, and said, Mike, take me out for the best corned beef and cabbage, you can because that’s my meal. And I want a green pint, I’d have to put you back on the plane, because those things almost don’t exist in Ireland, because corned beef and cabbage is an entirely American meal. And because the drink here is Guinness, which you can’t make green, Irish people have never bothered with green pints on St. Patrick’s Day. So again, that’s kind of all these local variants are quite interesting that, you know, it depends where you are.

Rick Becker 17:48
So I think that gets into an area of generalized Irish history, not just the history of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re probably more than any country in the world. The history of Ireland is definitely affected after a certain point by the Irish American population. You don’t see that as much with other countries where their diaspora plays such a big part in the politics in the history of the home country itself. Would you agree that that’s sort of the case?

Mike Cronin 18:24
Yeah, I think it’s critical. I mean, I think that you can look at, you know, in historical terms, what from the British perspective would have been referred to as white Empire countries, were kind of where the Irish went. So they went to fact to the UK itself, down to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, in the southern hemisphere. And obviously, Canada and the US in the northern hemisphere. The difference with the US as the US has kind of unlinked itself, obviously, from the British and the British Empire by the time the Irish famine happened in mid 19th century, and America is the favored destination for the Irish. And once one person there, they invite the next person next persons, you could get a huge movement, which means you talk about now, I think, the last American census, something around 18 to 20% of American people claimed Irish heritage, you know that that’s an incredible statistic, that even though the numbers as a percentage may be pretty much the same in the UK, perhaps people don’t claim it. And I think that that’s a critical difference within the US is that people are proud to have an Irish heritage, whereas the thing elsewhere, the kind of rates of assimilation have been very different. And I think that whole idea of then islands relationship to America becomes important because you have this kind of ebb and flow of people that you know, most Irish people have got somebody a relative who lives in America. They’ve been out on a j one visa, they’ve experienced America, and that’s without all the cultural stuff like TV and sports and baseball and football and everything else that comes comes across. It’s actually a personal familiarity. And I think again, I think it was a great question a few years ago when the Irish politicians said, you know, is where does it end? Look? Does it look to Boston or Berlin? is a member of the European Union? Or does it still have this favor this kind of historic relationship with the US diaspora? And I think, again, that’s a singularity that you look at. I forget what the figures are. But if you look at the, I think 80% Of all the US companies who trade in Europe 80% of their headquarters, or 70%, their headquarters are in Ireland. For Europe, the island is English speaking, familiar, the nearest landmass, etc, etc. So I think it just idea that the aspirant and the back and forth of people and ideas and a cultural imagination has just linked the two countries together in a very kind of familiar and familial way. But again, it goes back to some Patrick diamond, I think it’s quite remarkable that, you know, every country in the world that wants to trade or have different Matic relationships, you want to get the US president on a state visit to your country isn’t going to be awesome to have president to ever come to your country. You know, the Irish have a genealogist who goes to work. We’re not just going to invite them, we’re going to claim them as our own. So whether it’s Kennedy obviously, or they managed it with Reagan, they manage it with Nixon, they manage it with Obama, Obama comes down to money gold county awfully, and meets his cousins, and suddenly is there with a pint and he is an Irishman. He has Irish roots. And again, there’s not many nations can do that to hard wire place with power. And it does make the Irish American relationship quite unique.

Rick Becker 21:40
That was Mike Cronin, Academic Director at Boston College Ireland. I’m Rick Becker, and I’ll be welcoming Mike back on the show this summer to discuss his specialty with sports, especially the GAA sports of hurling, Gaelic, football and rounders. Speaking of Rounders, John Fitzgerald is here to talk about another project for the baseball United foundation. Always great to have you on the show, John. Hey, Rick, thanks

John Fitzgerald 22:06
for having me, as always good to be here.

Rick Becker 22:08
So of course, we are gearing up later this week, St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish American baseball society and the baseball United Foundation, always looking to do new things and have new opportunities around St. Patrick’s Day. What are you working on this year?

John Fitzgerald 22:24
Yeah, so this year, we’ve got a pretty cool one. I don’t know if you remember last year we announced our new youth baseball program in Northern Ireland. This year, we’ve got something similar. We’re actually announcing a partnership with the GA Rounders club in Adams town, which is in County Wexford. And for those of you who aren’t the listeners who aren’t familiar with Rounders, it’s basically, you know, baseball, it’s very similar sport. It was the sport that most historians think, you know, led to baseball, and they play Rounders in Ireland. So we’re gonna partner up with a Rounders club there to start a youth Rounders program.

Rick Becker 23:04
This is very interesting. But as somebody who is coming definitely with a baseball background, who doesn’t know a lot about Rounders, how are you using your knowledge of baseball to help sort of start this program?

John Fitzgerald 23:16
Yeah, that’s a great question. So we’ve been pursuing the similarities between Rounders from from two angles for a long time. The first is, you know, the history of the game and how, you know, a lot of, you know, Irish born baseball players played in the 19th century. And you know, the thinking is that their familiarity with Rounders and batten ball sports, like hurling lead to a lot of players being very good at baseball in the 19th century. The other side of it, we’ve been talking with different officials in in the GA, specifically in Rounders, about the similarities of the sport. And a couple of years ago, we sent two high school coaches over to kind of sit in on a Rounders match. It was a friendly match, and they ended up teaching the game, too. This was an adult MATCH. And they, you know, we’re teaching different baseball skills as far as Fielding and hitting and throwing, you know, in the middle of the game, and the players really loved it, they took to it really quick because the sport is very similar. There’s four bases, there’s a batter, the bat and a ball look, you know, very similar, the similarities are incredible. That’s at the adult level. Now they don’t throw overhand, but when you’re looking at a kid’s game, it looks a lot like Coach pitch baseball, or maybe slowpitch softball, except the ball looks very similar to a baseball. So the thinking was, you know, there are so many similarities. This Rounders club wanted to start a youth program. And you know, one of the things you know, in any sport, when you start a youth program, you need coaches, you need volunteers, you need instruction, and we can provide that so we will and, and we’re gonna see where it goes. But, you know, we’ve got dedicated volunteers on the ground in Adamstown, who want to see this work, and we want to see it work and part of the agreement is that, you know, we’re going to provide coaching, you’ll probably be virtual at first and then we’re going to send coaches over. And we’re also going to teach these kids about similarities between baseball and Rounders and, and we’re gonna look for players who might want to take it a step further, and maybe play baseball more seriously. And we’re gonna see where it goes. But education about baseball and the history of Irish and Irish American players in the US playing baseball will be part of that program.

Rick Becker 25:34
So much like a lot of the GAA sports, if kids develop the skills in some of those sports, they don’t really have anywhere to go except for to play them in Ireland, maybe in the big cities in the United States. Do you think that introducing them to Rounders might be a way of then easing them into baseball, which is something that they can do all over the world now?

John Fitzgerald 25:59
Yeah, the short answer is definitely yes. The longer answer is, what we want to do is, you know, find those players who might be able to represent Ireland at the international level, maybe we find a kid who’s really good athlete loves Rounders, you know, starts to love baseball, and it comes over here and plays in college. The other side of it, though, is, you know, we want to recognize that this is, you know, a Rounders club, and we don’t want to take any players away from them, what we actually really want to do is teach these kids boys and girls the skills that are going to make them enjoy the game more what we saw when we sent the two coaches over, Ken Santiana, and Gary O’Connor and these guys, you know, they know the game inside and out Gary was one of the 18 and under Irish coaches, for the junior national team. And, you know, they were they were teaching these adult players, you know, things that they had never been taught just you know how to swing the bat a little bit better how to throw the ball better. The response that we had made us think, you know, if we could teach kids this, more kids will continue playing Rounders and they play Rounders throughout the country and it’s it’s like I said, it’s one of the four GAA sports but it’s not as popular obviously as Gaelic football for hurling. But you know, it’s and it’s never going to be that just like baseball and Ireland’s never going to be Gaelic football or hurling. But if more kids can understand how to hit the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball better. The thinking is that more kids will be playing Rounders as they get, you know, into their teenage years. And then in, you know, when they become adult,

Rick Becker 27:35
obviously, John, thank you for all you do over there with baseball and now Rounders over in Ireland, John Fitzgerald, founder of the Irish American baseball society and the baseball United Foundation. We always appreciate having you here. Thanks, Rick. It’s been great for Mike Cronin, Academic Director of Boston College, Ireland and John Fitzgerald, founder of the Irish American baseball society and baseball United foundation. I’m Rick Becker, and this has been episode 31 of the Irish baseball podcast. Have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Announcer 28:07
Thanks for listening to the Irish baseball podcast. The Irish baseball Podcast is a production of the Irish American baseball society. Visit us online at Irish baseball dot board and connect with us on social media and remember there is no place like home

Transcribed by https://otter.ai