The calendar turned to March on Friday, ringing in Irish Cultural Heritage Month in Orangetown and Irish American Heritage Month in New York state.
To open the month, a group of locals of Irish descent spoke out against offensive St. Patrick’s Day-themed clothing at the Palisades Mall.
with stores and kiosks at the mall selling shirts perpetuating negative Irish stereotypes around this time of year. Similar items were recently found at Spencer’s. On Friday, State Sen. David Carlucci and a group of about 30 people gathered in the parking lot of ShopRite in West Nyack, directly across Route 59 from the mall to speak out against the offensive items.
“We’re here today in front of the Palisades Mall to really ask Palisades Mall to do the right thing,” Carlucci said. “As you can see, we’ve got so many pieces of propaganda of just such offensive and degrading material, and we know that the Palisades Mall, that Spencer’s, has the right to sell what they want to sell. But we also have the right to tell them that it’s wrong, that we as proud members of the community, of such a strong community of Irish Americans, are standing together to say we’re not going yo allow you to make a quick buck on the backs of Irish American heritage and that we stand here together with one voice to say that Irish American heritage is not for sale.”
People in the crowd held up the offensive shirts and hats, many with some sort of reference to the heavy drinking that is frequently associated with the holiday. Rockland County Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians President Joan Moore said St. Patrick’s Day is a religious holiday and people should respect it as such.
Katie Basler, vice president of the Rockland County Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, also talked about the holiday as a religious one, as well as what the clothing means to her as a mother.
“As a Catholic and as an Irish American, I am deeply insulted by this merchandise, but as a parent, I am absolutely horrified,” she said. “I have two young boys and I have tried to instill in them from day one not only to be proud of their heritage, but to be respectful of the cultures and traditions of others. This merchandise grossly undermines that.”
Also speaking on Friday was Neil Cosgrove, of New City, who is the national anti-defamation chair for Ancient Order of Hibernians. Cosgrove said they want to promote Irish heritage instead of supporting those who use the holiday as an excuse to binge drink. He said they won’t allow anyone wearing such clothing to march in the Rockland County St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Pearl River, and they ask people not to tailgate the parade as well.
“For me personally, being Irish isn’t a one day out of 365 thing,” he said. “Being Irish means memories of my grandparents and thinking about relatives I have who still live in Ireland. This clothing is taking that history and dragging it through the mud.”
Cosgrove also said March is also Women’s History Month, and so the clothing fails on two fronts, as many of the items can be viewed as sexist as well. He said the month should be used to teach others about the contributions the Irish and women have made to America. Cosgrove said there descendants from Ireland signed the Declaration of Independence and more than 250 people from Ireland have been awarded the Medal of Honor.
“This is what St. Patrick’s Day, this is what Irish American Heritage Month, is all about,” he said. “It’s not about these images here. We respect the right to free speech. Our parents came to this country because protests back in Ireland, from where they came, were often not allowed, and we’re grateful that we can protest and we’re grateful for free speech. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
Members of the group asked the mall to have the store remove the clothing items. Also speaking at the meeting were AOH National President Brendan Moore and Town of Ramapo Councilman Pat Withers.
“This is not a situation that should happen to Irish Americans,” Moore said. “It should not happen to Italian Americans. It should not happen to African Americans, members of the Latino community, Asian Americans. This should not happen to anyone”
Some of the shirts that were held up by the crowd included the quotes: “Rub my jugs for good luck,” “Drunk as shit,” “Everyone loves a drunk slut” and “Kiss me I’m Irish” with the word “kiss” crossed out and replaced with “blow.” Cosgrove said he didn’t plan on returning the shirts, which still had their tags on them.
“I think I’ll hold onto them for a while,” he said. “Hopefully one day they can be displayed in a museum and shown as a way the Irish used to be treated.”