This St. Patrick’s Day, Reflect on Irish-Palestinian Solidarity

Writer Mao Reynolds talks about Irish solidarity with Palestine.

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, I’m looking forward to dressing up in green, showing off my ginger genes and drinking beer the color of battery acid.

But it’s hard for Irish Americans like myself to celebrate this holiday when I think about the current struggle of Palestinians — a group whose present parallels our history.

In February, the Irish sports world made headlines as Gaelic football fans waved Palestinian flags at matches and the Irish women’s basketball team refused to shake hands with Israeli players.

However, this support for Palestine stretches far beyond the court. In 1980, Ireland became the first EU member to support a one-state solution with full sovereignty for Palestinians, according to Al Jazeera. Over 70% of Irish people disapprove of Israel’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks and believe Palestinians live in an apartheid state, according to the Irish Independent and Amnesty International.

Israel is currently committing genocidal actions against Palestinians, according to the International Court of Justice and the United Nations, but the oppression dates back to the founding of Israel in 1948. For just over 75 years, Palestinians have faced mass killings, starvation, linguistic discrimination and more.

If you’re Irish, this should sound all too familiar.

We too were once victims of ruthless slaughter, including countless times at the hands of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1600s. We too suffered from a famine which caused over a million deaths. We too are still trying to revive the Irish language after centuries of anglicization. We had to fight for our nationhood — just like the Palestinians fighting for freedom today.

As Palestinians make bread from animal fodder and drink tea made of sticks, I’m reminded of the Irish folk memory that recalls famine victims found dead with their mouths stained green from trying to eat grass. Folk memory isn’t always historically factual — rather, it should be seen as a reflection of a people’s psyche, a mirror of our mental state.

Even if we don’t have verified accounts of dead people with moss-marked mouths, the image still invokes the same pain and rage our ancestors felt just a few generations ago.

But Palestinians feel that pain and rage every second of the present. That’s why the Irish diaspora have and should continue to share their support for Palestinians, especially now.

My siblings and I grew up getting our names mispronounced, taking our tea with digestive biscuits and learning about mythical heroes like Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Cú Chulainn. When my family moved from Boston to the Bronx in 2015, we ended up in an Irish neighborhood, and I mean really Irish — the American term “drugstore” is instead called a chemist’s and there are about 18 bars crammed in less than a quarter of a square mile.

I also grew up learning about the discrimination Irish people once faced. When looking for work in the U.S., Irish immigrants were rejected on the basis of ethnicity and shops even put out signs reading “No Irish Need Apply” to dissuade them. Cartoonists like Thomas Nast caricatured Irish people as sloppy, ape-like drunks. During the decades-long period of conflict called the Troubles, the United Kingdom sanctioned violence against Catholics in Northern Ireland.

This struggle is why I’m so grateful I now have Irish citizenship. I can freely travel to the land my grandmother called home and I can be proud of my heritage without worrying about backlash or discrimination.

Palestinians can’t do any of this.

Irish Americans, which make up almost 10% of the United States population, should take a cue from our relatives across the pond. We should be marching in the streets, donating to organizations like the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund and spreading the word to as many people as we can.

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland who we’ll celebrate March 17, wasn’t Irish — he was a Roman Briton kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Even though he wasn’t Irish, we see him as a symbol of our people, and even though Palestinians are a whole continent away from us, we should see them as part of our extended family — a family of freedom fighters, anti-colonialists and revolutionaries.

I’ll still celebrate this St. Patrick’s Day. But I’ll also advocate for a free Palestine — and that advocacy has to last longer than just a weekend.

Feature image by Aidan Cahill / The Phoenix

Mao Reynolds

Mao Reynolds