Commentary: Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day With Song

By Ellen Foley Special For Channel 3000

Happy St. Patrick?s Day!

Irish-Americans have a lot to celebrate in 2010 North America. I am not spending my day ironing shirts in a German baron?s home like some of my Irish great-great-grandmothers, for example.

Let?s not be glum. Please have some fun celebrating friendship and even have a few beers for the Foleys today. You?ll have to excuse our lack of enthusiasm because we grew up with St. Patrick?s Day as a family holiday and we are none too pleased that this day has become a big drunk.

Just this Saturday a young woman on Madison?s State Street in green regalia sucker-punched one of her male comrades in a scene out of ?The Gangs of New York? in front of my horrified husband and daughter. The young man slugged her back and the two went after each other in what looked like a fight to the death.

Erin Go Bragh!

We are not exactly sure when going to Mass and having a family dinner turned in to Mardi- Gras-like mayhem. We just know we don?t like it.

Revelers today will backslap each other in local pubs telling each other that there are only two kinds of people: The Irish and those who want to be Irish.

I am perhaps part of the last American generation of full-blooded Irish people. My husband with half Irish blood, a quarter German and the rest English thinks this may be a good thing. Referring to Ireland?s island isolation and hinting at inbred, clannish behaviors, he has often remarked that we should be grateful that our two daughters ?got some blood from the continent.?

In general, we Irish-Americans are an affable group of storytellers and we feel that St. Patrick?s Day is the time to honor that wonderful skill and the many other achievements by Irish authors, scholars and leaders. (If you believe author Thomas Cahill, the Irish rescued intelligent life as we know it. He wrote a book called, “How the Irish Saved Civilization.”)

In my family, we learned storytelling around the campfire at my grandfather?s farm outside of Milwaukee. And by ?often?, I mean every weekend during childhood summers when all aunts, uncles and 25 cousins were summoned for Sunday dinner with Grandma and Grandpa Foley.

My uncle?s family recently printed a songbook with the tunes our fathers would sing during those snug times of crackling wood and family solidarity. Most of them were not songs of Ireland. We knew very little of the Murphys, Clearys, Driscolls, Foleys and others who came here in the 1800s. My grandparents didn?t want to look back.

We did sing about our family and our town. My grandparents were very proud of thriving in the big city of Milwaukee after the previous generation had scratched out a life mining in New Diggings, southwest of Madison, or farming near Random Lake.

So in proud Irish spirit, I thought I?d share my favorite family song with you on this Irish-American high holy day. I?m told that this song was sung and possibly written by students in the 1940s who did not attend University of Wisconsin-Madison, which in my family meant Marquette University and Mount Mary College students. UW had its song with ?Varsity? and ?If you want to be a Badger? and the Milwaukee crew wanted theirs.

It?s hard for you to hear this song by just reading the words. I sang it over the phone last night to daughter Maura in the hope that she would put it up on YouTube, our recent iteration of the campfire. Meanwhile …

Think of this if you see faux Irish people in Shamrock shirts doing the jig in a local green-draped tavern today. Take instead my memory of a very different sense of being Irish, cuddled with parents and cousins around a roaring fire and listening to three generations sing about our family and our place.

MilwaukeeAs Sung by Uncle Dave Foley

Now I?ll sing a song about a town A good ole town at that. I know you know the town I mean It?s always on the map. New York is nice and so is Chi But they?re not one, two, three. I?m strong for this town just because It?s home sweet home to me.

Chorus: Right in Milwaukee, Right in Milwaukee That?s the only, only place to be. You may have your Golden West, But the town that I love best is M-I-L-W-A-U-K double E!!!!

Columbus he discovered us in 1492. His name will live in history That fact is very true. Some say he sailed into New York One night ?twas after dark. But that?s a lie, He sailed in here Right off Pulaski Park.

Chorus: Right in Milwaukee?

George Washington was first in war And first in peace we?re told. He never, never told a lie. His words were good as gold. When Georgey chipped the cherry tree That made his father sore Because he didn?t buy the ax At Tritzlaff?s Hardware store.

Chorus: Right in Milwaukee ?

About this ancient his-tor-y There?s seems to be a doubt. I?m tired of all these dopey guys Who try to dope it out. Some say it wasn?t Eden. But I honestly believe I?m positive without a doubt That Adam first met Eve

Chorus: Right in Milwaukee …

Cook and Perry found the port. It wasn?t Harry Stout. Mickey Riley so they say Invented Sauerkraut. Limberger Cheese and Weinerwurst Were not discovered here. But there?s a guy by the name of Schlitz That makes some damn good beer.

Chorus: Right in Milwaukee …

Chicago girls are very nice But skinny as a flea. Boston girls are also nice But fat as they can be. St. Louis girls are noted for Their livery stable feet. But where are all those pretty girls Whose beauty can?t be beat??

Chorus: Right in Milwaukee?.


Ellen Foley is….