News / USA

St. Patrick's Day Recalls Irish Immigrant Experience

150,000 marchers expected at New York City parade

More than 500 Irish-Americans who trace their roots to County Mayo in Ireland gathered in a New York dance hall for an early St. Patrick's Day celebration.
More than 500 Irish-Americans who trace their roots to County Mayo in Ireland gathered in a New York dance hall for an early St. Patrick's Day celebration.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

Thursday, March 17, is Saint Patrick’s Day, a time when native-born Irish and Irish-Americans will parade and pipe their way up Manhattan’s famed Fifth Avenue. The 2011 event, which is expected to include well over 150,000 thousand marchers, will be the 250th annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade to be held in New York.

There was a foretaste of Saint Patrick’s Day revelry at a dinner dance held last Saturday in a vast Queens, New York catering hall. More than 500 Irish-Americans who trace their roots to County Mayo celebrated with visitors and well-wishers who had come from County Mayo itself to join in the fun. County Mayo is just one of the 26 Irish counties represented in this year’s parade.

Among the luminaries gaily holding their own among the dancers was Mary Higgins Clark, 83. The renowned author will be the Grand Marshall of this year’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. Clark says she is delighted to be celebrating her Celtic roots with her fellow Irish Americans, and adds that many of the two million or so New Yorkers lining Thursday’s parade route will be Irish in a certain sense, too.

“There is no question the sense of pride is the same. The people watching the parade, they are thinking of their own ancestors. They came over the same way. They came over in steerage," says Clark. "They were listed as laborers and they built themselves from the ground up. So I think, in a sense, everybody is Irish because everybody, or so many, are the children of immigrants, and they are seeing or watching the stories they heard themselves.”

An unflattering political cartoon from 1871 titled 'The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things,' by Thomas Nast.
An unflattering political cartoon from 1871 titled 'The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things,' by Thomas Nast.

Hard times

The story of the first great wave of Irish immigration to New York is not a happy one. Millions of Irish arrived here during the 19th century. Many were seeking refuge from political or religious persecution. Others were fleeing the Great Famine of 1845 to 1852, when more than a million Irish died of starvation and disease.

The immigrants met further hardship when they reached New York.

“There was tremendous discrimination against them. Signs went up all over New York and Boston [that said] ‘No Irish Need Apply.’ And they were lampooned regularly in the press as idiots, as garbage. And so they needed to get together,” says Brian O’Dwyer, chairman of the non-profit Emerald Isle Immigration Center.

Making their mark

That experience sparked a deep involvement in local politics that continues to this day.

"We learned very quickly that the only way we could combat oppression is by being in and of ourselves, part of the politics and making sure we took part in the American democracy," says O'Dwyer. "And that developed a whole brand new way of thinking by the Irish - as opposed to any other immigrant group before or since - that you needed to organize, that you needed to be part of the fabric of American society quickly so you could make your mark in America.”

Indeed, Irish-Americans have made their mark in areas as diverse as labor unions, popular culture, law enforcement, journalism and finance. Famous Americans of Irish descent include John F. Kennedy and eight other U.S. presidents, the writers F. Scott Fitzgerald and Flannery O’Connor, industrialist Henry Ford, and boxing champions Jack Dempsey and Yankee Sullivan.

New wave

Tighter U.S. visa restrictions and citizenship requirements introduced during the 1960s, as well as an improved economy in Ireland over the past decade, slowed the rate of Irish immigration from its 20th century peak.

But the recent economic downturn has led to a new wave of Irish coming to New York, hoping to settle here. Emerald Isle Immigration Center chairman O’Dwyer says his organization helps thousands of Irish immigrants and would-be immigrants every year.

“America is different from Ireland with different customs, and different ways, and they are away from home for the first time and it’s our job to make sure that they are welcomed and that the transition is easy for them," he says. "We tell them that no matter what anyone has told you, people in New York love the Irish and as long as you work hard, the sky is the limit as it has been for many, many generations before.”

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid