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Thursday, January 24, 2008

A BIT OF IRELAND IN NEW ENGLAND

You’ve probably noticed that wild skirling Irish music that the
networks play during the opening videos of the Patriots’
football games. It’s the same song Red Sox pitcher Jonathan
Papelbon did his famous jig to after victories in the AL
playoffs and World Series: “Shipping Up to Boston” by the
local Irish punk band the Dropkick Murphys. To me, the song
represents how much the Irish culture has blended into the
fabric of New England and especially Massachusetts.

The lyrics were written by Woody Guthrie, the quintessential
American folksinger, in the stlye of a Yankee sea chantey.


A few facts here from the U.S. Census Bureau. A press release
dated March 10th ,2006 in observance of St. Patrick’s Day
included the following facts:

24%
Percentage of Massachusetts residents of Irish ancestry —
about double the national percentage. (The estimate of
people
of Irish ancestry excludes people living in group
quarters.)
(Source: American FactFinder)

348,978
Number of Middlesex County, Mass., residents who are of
Irish ancestry. Among the 54 counties where Irish is the
largest observed ancestry group, Middlesex had the highest
population of Irish-Americans, with Norfolk County, Mass.,
second, with 203,285. (Source: unpublished data)

31%
Percentage of the population of Plymouth County, Mass.,
and
Norfolk County, Mass., that is of Irish ancestry. Among
the
54 counties where Irish is the largest observed ancestry
group, these two counties had the highest rate.
(Source: unpublished data)


The store I work in is in Norfolk County. Not a day goes by
where I don’t hear at least three customers speak to me with
an Irish accent. Celtic music is the leading category of world
music cds that we sell. The New England Irish Cultural Center
is a few miles away in Canton, Ma.


I live in Plymouth County in the town of Abington where 33%
of the residents claim Irish ancestry. The town government
reflects that with18 out of the 53 elected officials having Irish
names and many more serving on boards and commissions.
John L. Sullivan of bareknuckle boxing fame retired to a farm
in West Abington where he ended his days and the St.
Brigitte’s Catholic church is one of the oldest on the South
Shore. The high school sports teams are known as "The
Green Wave" and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade(one of the
largest in the Boston area) will be on March 16th this year.
I’ve written before a bit about the history of the parade here.



And of course, there’s Boston itself, with the neighborhoods of
SouthBoston, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury
where the Irish immigrants first settled and many of their
descendants still live. There may be other cities with larger
Irish American populations but I doubt that there was as
much impact in those cities as there was and is in Boston. Nor
do I think the transformation was as dramatic anywhere else
than here. New York and Chicago were largely cities of
immigrants of many nationalities. Here there were fewer and
the Irish endured years of anti-Catholicism and “No Irish
Need Apply”. But they persevered and in the 20th century a
sea change began in the politics and culture of all of New
England. I’d like to say that Irish charm won over those
conservative Yankee hearts but it was really the result of
years of hard work and struggle.



In my own case, I have four hundred years of New England
ancestors on my Dad’s side. On my Mom’s side, three of her
four grandparents were Irish immigrants, possibly all from
Roscommon. (Mom’s paternal grandmother was German). So
our family is an example of that melding of two cultures, and
why “Shipping Up to Boston” seems to symbolize that so well.


I’ll probably never go to Ireland. But every day, in the people
I talk with, the music I hear, the towns I live and work in,
Ireland touches me.

1 comment:

barbara said...

Hi Bill,
I liked your post ;)
I'am a descendant of Irish in Philadelphia, but I share the pride my Irish heritage.
It is so nice to hear that the Mass Irish have kept a lot of their culture.
Just for the remark, I LOVE Celtic music.I will check out that punk style band on YouTube !

Have a great Sunday !