The McBournie Minute: Why Boston is a twofold shrine on March 17

If you were out celebrating St. Patrick’s Day over the weekend, I’ll do my best to write as quietly as possible. I’d even recommend that you turn down the brightness on your screen. You went out and celebrated the approximate date of birth of a Scot who spread Catholicism to the Irish. Any saint would want you to celebrate them by committing a mortal sin by hoisting a glass or eight.

The other big way to celebrate is by dressing somewhat Irish. I dress in relation to occasion for every holiday. At Christmas, I wear a Santa Claus hat, at Valentine’s Day, I wear nothing but a diaper and shoot pink-tipped arrows at passers-by, and on Arbor Day I stand motionless outside from a long time.

But there are other ways to go about celebrating St. Paddy’s Day. For the Boston Police, it’s all about breaking out the paddy wagon (which has to be deemed a racist term by now).

In Boston, the most Irish city in the U.S., the celebration got a bit out of control. A total of 26 people were arrested after the parade there yesterday. Another 336 citations for public drinking were given out that day, too. It’s somewhat amazing that public drinking in Boston on St. Patrick’s Day is a crime at all. It’s like if New Orleans decided to crack down on revelers at Mardi Gras. Your city is known for a specific celebration, and as long as no one is being put in harm’s way, there’s nothing wrong with turning a blind eye for a bit.

The day is important for the city of Boston goes even deeper than just a parade for a bunch of drunks whose families fled Ireland during the potato famine, it’s also the day we Americans kicked the Brits and their sympathizers out of the city in 1776, and it’s an official holiday in Boston and a few surrounding areas. It’s called Evacuation Day, here’s why it’s celebrated.

By the beginning of summer 1775, rebel forces eventually under the command of George Washington had most land routes out of Boston (which was then basically a bottleneck in Boston Harbor, and control of nearly all of the high ground. The British held the city and had the backup of naval ships nearby. Neither side had taken the hills to the south of Boston, called Dorchester Heights, and no one really dared to make a move for them.

The stalemate lasted for the better part of a year, until Henry Knox brought cannons from upstate New York in the dead of winter. On the night of March 4, 1776, during a swirling snowstorm, the rebel forces snuck over to and fortified Dorchester Heights, bringing with them many of their newly-acquired cannons. The path taken brought rebel troops within view and possibly firing range of British troops if they were discovered, so bales of hay were placed along one side to muffle the sound of their movement, and protect them from musket fire if need me. It wasn’t needed.

On March 5, the British awoke to find rebel cannons pointed into the city ready to fire, and the colonists were still digging in, making their position even more formidable. It was the sixth anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

Unsurprisingly, the British agreed to hop on their naval ships and abandon the city without burning it, as long as they were not fired upon. It took over a week to organize and load up all of the soldiers and citizens who supported the crown. They set sail for Nova Scotia on March 17. It was a stunning and complete victory for the rebels, and it was Washington’s first of the war.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade has existed in Boston in some form since the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until 1901 that Evacuation Day became a city holiday. However, it probably became one at that point because city politicians wanted to get the favor of the burgeoning Irish population, or at least encourage them not to show up drunk to work by requiring businesses to be closed.

So it’s sad that we have to see this blue-on-green action on revelers. In Boston, of all places, March 17 is a date to celebrate, whether Irish or American, and it goes double for Irish-Americans. The police shouldn’t discourage pride in the heritage of the people. Instead they should just make sure riots don’t break out, and get the rookies to hose down the sidewalks when someone evacuates the contents of their stomach.