By Ray O’Hanlon
There’s one every year. A newspaper story about St. Patrick’s Day crosses the line and there’s hell to pay.
This year it was the turn of Springfield, Ill., the area newspaper, the State Journal Register, and a writer named Loos.
Outdoors and humor columnist Ralph Loos penned a St. Patrick’s Day column that appeared the day after the big Irish day.
It was indeed a day late and quite a few dollars short, according to a considerable number of people who read it.
Loos wrote an account of St. Patrick and the legend of his banishing the snakes from Ireland.
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Taking the legend to task, Loos let loose.
"I’ve made several Irish friends here in Springfield, so I feel somewhat comfortable saying that an Irishman wouldn’t have the guts to banish a snake, even if it slithered up the side of his beer bottle and kissed him on his bald white head or shriveled red nose.
"By the way, I say those things with all due (Burp!) respect for Irishmen, most of whom have bald white heads and shriveled red noses."
Loos continued the tale with a few more burps and digs along the way. Describing a "long and boring" sermon by St. Patrick to a group of Irishmen — interrupted by a lone snake who set the Irishmen "dancing on their tippy-toes" — the column added that the snake itself eventually had enough.
"It slithered off, not stopping until it had slithered out of earshot from the gas-bag St. Patrick."
The story might have slithered into oblivion but the internet banished it well beyond the State Journal Register’s circulation borders.
The paper was inundated with angry letters, faxes and e-mails. The Gorta Mor Commemoration Committee in Chicago launched an immediate campaign "on a world scale" to rebut the sentiments expressed by Loos in his column.
The campaign included calls for a letter-writing campaign to the State Journal Register, a boycott of the paper and a possible picket on its offices.
"In the light of the recent Bob Jones University incident regarding Catholic bashing, it is now time to move from vigilance to aggressive action. No other ethnic, racial or religious group would tolerate such outright prejudice and bigotry," the Great Hunger Committee said in a statement.
Last Saturday, a week after the offending column, Loos penned an apology.
"Last week, I decided to have some fun with my many Irish pals. To some extent, the rather silly humor was received in the same silly spirit as it was given," Loos wrote.
"Quite a few of the Irish in Springfield even responded with their own tongue-in-cheek pokes at yours truly, claiming that I was jealous I couldn’t join in the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day.
"Unfortunately, other readers took offense to the column. I must admit, in retrospect it may have come across as mean-spirited, though that certainly was not the intent. To those who were offended, I apologize."
Loos added that he had received e-mails from countries all over the world, including Ireland, Australia and Indonesia.
"A few people called me personally to share their disapproval of the column," he said. "I have great respect for that approach. I listened and I learned."
Loos said he was taken aback by the extent of the reaction.
"A week before I wrote a column making fun of my German ancestors," he said. "The St. Patrick’s Day column was really intended to be tongue-in-cheek."
A forked-tongue, unfortunately.