What To Do About St Patrick's Day?
Growing up in rural southwestern Ontario in the 1960's, I was surrounded by Scots or Irish who had settled Moore Township in the 1830's and 1840's. Many of us lived on the original farms that our great grand parents had carved from the forest before Confederation. Unlike the US, with their Ulster Scot, or Scotch Irish concepts, we in Ontario knew from experience that Scots and Irish were distinctly different people, often having opposing views on religion and politics, and who rarely intermarried during their first 125 or so years in Canada. However we were only vaguely aware of the long history that created, defined and perpetuated these differences. By 1968, the Orange walk on July 12th was but a distant memory of our parents, having been replaced by the Orange Parade on New Year's Day. St. Patrick's Day enjoyed only slightly more significance, but other the green beer served at the local tavern, it was largely ignored in our community.
It was not until my late teens that I learned my first real lesson in Irish history. One summer evening in 1970 I set off to Lucan in nearby Biddulph Township with three friends to explore the scene of the notorious Donnelly massacre, in which five members of an Irish family had been murdered one snowy night in 1880. Like most teenage escapades, we did no prior research, but just naively rolled into Lucan in Buck Hystead's 1962 Ford Galaxy and started asking people how to find the Donnelly homestead. The responses ranged from polite indifference to outright hostility, but no one would tell us how to find the farm. We had obviously touched the third rail of Biddulph Township's history. We drove around on the back roads for several hours, but never found the scene of the crime, returning home empty handed. Only later, after reading several books on both the local history and that of Ireland, did I discover the feud was thought by some to have had its roots in an ancient feud between the Irish Whiteboys and the Scottish Orangemen dating back to the late 17th century. The "troubles" between the ethnic Scots and the Irish in Belfast and Londonderry were in full swing by the time I went off to university in 1971, but with a name like Brian, I was more than welcome to consume green beer on St. Patrick's Day with my Irish friends.