February 13, 2013 by AOH National Board
The AOH continues to work to have Irish American Heritage Month recognized and commemorated by our public institutions with the same level of commitment as they recognize other heritages. In particular, the Smithsonian Institute, which claims to be America’s leading educational institution, honors with extensive programs Black History Month, Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and American Indian Heritage Month but continues to ignore Irish American Heritage Month. We have tried to engage the administration of the Smithsonian several times, and have met with what can only be described as practiced bureaucratic obfuscation:
First, we pointed to the President’s yearly proclamation calling for recognition of Irish American Heritage Month by “appropriate programs and activities. To but it colloquially, the Smithsonian doesn’t seem to be acting on the boss’s memo as concerns Irish American Heritage Month. We were told that “there are many presidential proclamations, we only recognize those Months that have been recognized by law.”
We responded pointing out that Irish American Heritage month was proclaimed in Public Law 101-418.
We were then told by a Smithsonian representative that the Smithsonian, often called the “Nation’s Attic”, did not have any items in their collection to support an exhibit on Irish American Heritage Month. This was incredible! We quickly pointed out that the Smithsonian had the Apollo Command capsule commanded by Michael Collins (who was also the Smithsonian’s first director of the Air and Space Museum) and we felt confident that the Smithsonian likewise must have material to honor the tremendous contribution Irish American women such as Colonel Eileen Collins, Dr. Katherine Sullivan and Christa McAuliffe have played in space exploration. We would certainly hope that the Smithsonian as America’s foremost educational institution would also have materials on the nine Irish American signers of the Declaration of Independence, Commodore John Barry, the Irish Brigade and the numerous Irish born awardees of the Medal of Honor.
Most recently, we have been told that there is just no funding for an Irish American Heritage Month programming. This is an unacceptable argument: the Smithsonian can’t fund programs for other heritages and then say the “coffers are dry” when it comes to recognizing the Irish. It is particularly unjust given that Irish Americans have always given of their treasurer and their blood to this Nation.
It is clear that for reasons which are not clear, and which they seem hesitant to directly articulate, that the administration of the Smithsonian are resistant to recognizing the contribution of Irish Americans and Irish American Heritage Month. We therefore ask that every Hibernian and their family members send a letter to the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian asking that this prominent taxpayer funded institution recognize the heritage of Irish Americans with comparable exhibits to the other heritages that the Smithsonian currently celebrates annually. The Chancellor of the Board of Regents is Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court, certainly a man we should be able to appreciate an appeal to fairness and justice. The address and a suggested letter can be found below.
Isn’t out heritage worth a few moments and a stamp? If we as Hibernians can deliver a few hundred to the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian I am confident inquires will be made by the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian into the reasons why Irish American Heritage Month is currently ignored by the Smithsonian administration. As Hibernians dedicate to “Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity” let us make in all our discussions on Irish American Heritage Month one point abundantly clear: we do not dispute the rightful recognition of other Heritages to tell with pride their contributions to the great American narrative, rather we are looking for the tremendous contribution of Irish Americans to our nation to be accorded the same recognition and respect.
To paraphrase David McCullough, our Heritage is who we are and why we are the way we are. No group has given more to the creation, formation and defense of our nation than the Irish, yet the contributions of our ancestors continue to be overlooked and underrepresented, particularly be educational institutions such as the Smithsonian. We owe it as a debt of gratitude that the courage, loyalty and sacrifices of our forebears is honored and their memory passed on to future generations. Our Oath calls us to action in this mission and I thank you in advance for your support.
Neil F. Cosgrove, Irish American Heritage Month Committee Chair