Getting Beyond U2, St. Patrick's Day, and Green Beer to Real Irish History

And recalling my own history, talking about America in Dublin.


By Robert Emmet Kennedy Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

Few U.S. high school students may realize it, but there's more to Irish history than U2, St. Patrick, and green beer. That's why the U.S.-Ireland Alliance might be on to a good thing with a new program it's creating to teach our high school students about Irish history. (And it reminds me of some fun I had interning in the U.S. embassy in Dublin a long while ago, trying to teach Irish high school students about the United States.)

As Trina Vargo, the founder and head of the U.S.-Ireland Alliance notes:

"Most young Americans don't learn about Ireland in high school because it wasn't related to the American Revolution, the French Revolution or WWII. Over the years, many high school teachers have told me that, if they had the materials, they'd teach about Ireland. The goal of the Alliance is to help provide these materials and make them widely available to public and private schools across the country."

Given the special role that Ireland has in our country ( 36.5 million Americans, including this writer, claim Irish heritage), and especially as exemplified by the, ahem, celebrations around the country today ( It's St. Patrick's Day! Let's all get falling down drunk!), a bit of actual history is probably a good idea.

(Full disclosure: The alliance's program is established in honor of Ted Kennedy; I interned for Kennedy when I was in college, and my immediate boss was Trina Vargo, then a Kennedy foreign policy aide, and now the head of the alliance.)

I spent several months interning at the U.S. embassy in Dublin in 1995. One of my tasks was visiting Dublin secondary schools to talk to students there about their perceptions of the United States. Horrifyingly, the students' views of us invariably derived from television and I could expect variations on three questions wherever I went: Are Americans all beautiful? (as on Baywatch, Beverly Hills , 90210, etc.—I would of course point to myself and say "Of course!" with as much irony as I could muster); Why a re Americans all armed?(as on Cops, etc.); and Are all Americans crazy? (as on Jerry Springer, etc.).

I somehow fear that the current crop of television shows has not improved our image over there.

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