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

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

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid