Of all the things to build memorials for, one would think the Irish Potato Famine--which killed roughly a million people in the mid-19th century--would be fairly uncontroversial. Not so, at least, for William McGurn, who complains in The Wall Street Journal of the "outbreak of monuments" that do nothing but reinforce Irish "victimhood" at precisely the time when Irish-Americans are finally thriving. Aside from finding the $5 million New York City famine memorial ugly, he thinks it's a major step down from the Times Square statues of Irish Americans George M Cohan (Broadway entertainer of the song "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Over There") and Father Francis Duffy, army chaplain. These strong, affirmative examples are more to his taste, whereas "today ... we burnish grievances that our great-great-great-great-grandparents could be forgiven for having." He wonders if it's "the result of an education system whose histories emphasize ethnic, racial and religious victimhood." His conclusion:
When our ancestors were poor and newly arrived on these shores, they didn't build monuments to their woes. With their pennies, they raised up St. Patrick's Cathedral and countless other churches. With their priests and nuns, they built a parochial school system that ushered millions of Irish into the American Dream—and today is often the only hope an inner-city black or Latino child has for doing the same. And their legacy of courage and sacrifice remains visible in, say, the prominence of Irish names among the 9/11 firemen who charged up the stairs of the Twin Towers when everyone else was running down.
These are America's true monuments to the Irish. They also represent the other, more hopeful side of the famine story. On this St. Patrick's Day, surely that's something to celebrate.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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