George Washington on Backdrop of Irish & US Flags

George Washington and the Irish

The celebration of the United States’ birthday on July 4th doesn’t look much the celebration of Ireland’s national day on March 17th. One is full of fireworks and barbeques, and the other features a lot of music and dancing. But they have more than parades in common. George Washington was a key player in establishing both of these celebratory national days.

Do we have George Washington to thank for St. Patrick’s Day Parades?

Washington gave his troops St Patrick’s Day off in 1780 to lift morale at the tail end of a long, difficult winter where his troops suffered severe hunger. Why St. Patrick’s Day? Because so many of his soldiers were Irish. Throughout the American Revolution, more than 10,000 soldiers with Irish surnames served under Washington. Many of them were deserters from the British army who just could not fight against a people seeking freedom from British rule. Throughout the revolution, Washington and the Irish shared a mutual sympathy.

Washington supported Ireland’s quest to become a free, independent nation. “Ireland, thou friend of my country in my country’s most friendless days,” he once said, “much injured, much enduring land, accept this poor tribute from one who esteems thy worth and mourns thy desolation.”

The success of the American Revolution inspired an attempted revolution in Ireland in 1798, one of many before Ireland finally gained freedom a century ago after the 1916 Easter Uprising. You could say that love of freedom and bravery are two Irish gifts.

Add some Irish to your celebrations

The Irish Who Helped Free the USA

The Irish who fought for the new nation’s independence came from all parts of Ireland. The majority were actually Presbyterian Scots-Irish from Ulster. At that time, they shared a desire to be independent from the British crown. That’s why many of them left Ireland for a place further from London, a place that was much harder for the British government to control where they enjoyed religious freedom.  

Some of Washington’s most esteemed officers were Irish. Their individual actions influenced the outcome of the American Revolution.

  • John Sullivan, whose parents were Irish immigrants, led an assault column in Washington’s victory at the battle in Trenton, New Jersey. Four of Sullivan’s brothers also served in the revolutionary forces.
  • Richard Montgomery, who had studied at Trinity College in Dublin, was killed in battle while leading his troops in an attack on British forces in Quebec after his successful operations in Montreal.
  • John Haslet, a Presbyterian minister from County Derry, crossed the Delaware with Washington himself.
  • Stephen Moylan from Cork was Washington’s personal secretary.
  • John Stark, son of Irish immigrants, played a key role in the battles of Bunker Hill and Bennington. He also wrote the New Hampshire state motto (live free or die).
Gifts for Irish American Names

When we think of Irish-Americans, we tend to think of how we are connected to Ireland. But our ancestors in the USA sunk deep roots here, and they were critical to the fight for independence. The Fourth of July is the perfect time to remember their sacrifices and their contributions.