U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day: 1916-2016 (P5)

This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.

Part 5: The Troubles & the Rising’s 75th anniversary

St. Patrick’s Day 1991 arrived some 20 years into the Troubles. The Irish Republic was taking a cautious approach to the upcoming 75th anniversary of the Rising.

“Officials say at a time when talks are soon to open over the future of Northern Ireland, they do not want to be seen celebrating an event that could be exploited by the outlawed Irish Republican Army as justification for its own violent campaign to oust British rule from the province,” The Washington Post reported after the holiday and before the anniversary.

A government spokesman said “the right note has to be struck-dignified and low-key, without in any way allowing it to be misrepresented.” But with the IRA planning their own parades and other events, critics charged the government’s inaction effectively allowed “radicals to hijack the Rising,” the Post said.

Irish stamp issued in 1991 for 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Irish stamp issued in 1991 for 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

U.S. papers also published reviews of “Rebels: The Irish Rising of 1916,” by Peter De Rosa. Critics blasted the author’s blending of fact and fiction. Under the headline, “A Terrible Mess Was Born,” The New York Times said, “He has taken a magnificent if oft-told tale, and transformed it into a puppet show whose figures move jerkily across the stage and are made to speak in eerie and uncouth tongues.”

In Washington, President George H.W. Bush was winding down the Gulf War. He met with Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Gerard Collins on March 13, 1991, a few days after issuing generic remarks for St. Patrick’s Day: “Serving in our Nation’s War for Independence and later helping to build its railroads, canals, and industries, Irish Americans have long demonstrated a capacity for hard work, as well as a strong penchant for full, spirited, and upright living.”

Bush flew to Hamilton, Bermuda, to confer with British Prime Minister John Major on St. Patrick’s Day, two days after Major met with the main Unionist parties in London. As Easter 1991 approached, the Good Friday Agreement was still seven years in the future.