Should St. Patrick’s Day be a public school holiday? A Queens senator thinks so

A fireman plays bagpipes in last year's St. Pat’s for All parade in Sunnyside.
THE COURIER/Photo by William Alatriste

If one Queens senator has it his way, New York City public schools in districts with large Irish populations will be allowed to close for St. Patrick’s Day.

State Senator Tony Avella introduced the bill this week, reasoning that St. Patrick’s Day (March 17, the Catholic feast day of Ireland’s patron saint) is the only annual holiday honoring Irish culture and should be recognized as such.

The bill would be put into practice in a similar manner to a recently passed education law recognizing Asian Lunar New Year as a school holiday in city school districts with an Asian population of at least seven percent.

The bill follows a Department of Education (DOE) announcement that some parent-teacher conferences would be held on the cultural holiday.

Members of the Irish-American community have been petitioning Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina to change the date of the conferences, including members of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center — a community group serving Irish immigrants. Emerald Isle Immigration Center Executive Director Siobhan Dennehy herself penned a letter to Farina urging her to reschedule.

“St. Patrick’s Day is a holy day of obligation for Irish Catholics which is also observed by many Irish Americans,” Dennehy said.

Avella said he was astounded that the day had yet to be recognized as a school holiday in a state where so many Irish immigrants originally settled. According to the senator, New York State has the largest concentrated Irish population in the United States at 12.9 percent of its residents. The city is also home to the nation’s oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which dates back to the colonial period.

“Let us extend the same courtesy to the Irish as we have to so many other cultural and religious groups and let students and teachers alike to observe this holiday with their friends and family,” Avella said.

Neil Cosgrove of the Ancient Order of Hibernians National Irish American Heritage Month Committee said that the Irish came into the country to flee famine and oppression and have since had a positive impact every aspect of American Society.

“This is a story that should resonate and be celebrated by all Americans; it is a history that should be shared with all children,” Cosgrove said.

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