Rhode Island and Ireland are pretty much bookends of the Atlantic Ocean, so it makes sense that these geographical cousins should be connected and mutually easy to get to. Thankfully, TF Green Airport has obliged us with just that through their partnership with low-cost international carrier Norwegian Airlines – but you probably already know that. This means that while visitors from Dublin and Cork can enjoy the best of what Rhody has to offer, Ocean Staters can head in the other direction from as little as $115 (depending on the season), and become better acquainted with the Emerald Isle, seven days a week. It’s also a relatively straightforward trip; TF Green is a nimble, quick-moving airport, and the nonstop flight across the ocean takes just under six hours. You are there before you know it, and take it from me: It is less stressful flying to Dublin than it is negotiating rush hour traffic around Providence.
But what to do when you arrive over the ocean? This Irishman says try something different. Granted, the pubs of Temple Bar in Dublin and the riverside area of Cork will tempt you with all the craic* – and both are certainly worth a visit – but Ireland goes beyond the pull of a Guinness tap. Arriving in Dublin airport, you also land yourself 27 miles south of one of the most ancient manmade structures on the planet. Built around 3,200 BCE, the impeccably preserved Newgrange is a Neolithic passage tomb designed to be in-tune with the solar cycles. Accordingly, Newgrange remains dark all year round, apart from the Solstices when the sun’s light illuminates the inner chamber and highlights an incredible piece of knotwork carved on the back wall, and since the (well-lit) guided tour also recreates the illumination, you get to witness this Indiana Jones-type trickery in real life.
Not your scene? Dublin is an exciting meeting of the old and the new, a city built by Vikings that today supports one of the most cosmopolitan societies in Western Europe. Alternatively, head farther north and aim for Antrim’s Atlantic coast. Down Cork way, you’re spoiled for choice. In the city itself, take your tastebuds on a walk through the English Market before venturing out across the country’s wild and rugged countryside on a pilgrimage to the Beara Peninsula. Sure, the ring of Kerry is only 90 minutes away… but be warned, there are tourists, and do you really want to spend your time in Ireland with Big Ron from Schenectady? If you do decide to go to the area, avoid the traps and visit places like Skellig Michael instead.
And here’s the one I shouldn’t be telling you about: Each year, the village of Miltown Malbay in Co. Clare hosts the Willie Clancy Summer School, aka, the world’s premier gathering of Irish musicians in one place at one time. If all the sounds of Ireland in the most local of settings takes your fancy – as it should – then make the two-and-a-half-hour trek from Cork this Jul 6 – 14 and go fully native. It’s something you won’t read about anywhere else, and will give you more Irishness in one go than if Saint Patrick dipped his fingers in your tea. n
* banter, entertainment, stories. In this case, the more raucous kind.
Paddy Saint-Murcah Day
What the hell are you all doing?
Saint Patrick’s Day is a load of bollocks. The holiday as we know it is as traditionally Irish as pizza bites are traditionally Italian, and was brought to life not in Ireland, but right here in the United States. It could be a bunch of craic, but when you’ve got Scottish bagpipes belting-out ‘Danny Boy” (lyrics penned by an Englishman) while everyone skids around on a diet of boiled corned beef and green beer, it’s hard to take it all seriously. Because if anything is true of the Irish, we tend to do things with a little less flash, and as a culture fiercely protective of identities that have been fractured over the years, we are put off by misrepresentations of who we are. Plus, Patrick’s wee shindig went largely unnoticed in Ireland until relatively recently; my family was the anomaly that dusted off the grill and cooked sausages in the rain to commemorate the occasion (don’t ask why). The only other people active on Paddy’s Day were old Catholic dears toddering off to the chapel to conduct some prayers … and that was about it, bar the odd pub party here and there. That is, until the early 1990s when some smart folks in business suits realized there was money to be had, so began importing the ferocity (if not the wholesale content) of Paddy Saint-Murcah Day to Ireland, and things have just gone buck mad ever since.
And now, a confession: Irish Millennials, myself included, have (almost) fully embraced the spirit of the Yankified version of Paddy’s Day (minus the corned beef, Notre Dame obsession and lads in kilts). Perhaps it’s because World Rugby has sneakily been scheduling the Ireland vs. England Six Nations game on Saint Patrick’s Day every other year. Or perhaps it’s because on an island of deep political division, Mar 17 is the one day when we can all come together and adopt a single identity that we can agree on. The fact that the thing that binds us together is a random fifth-century missionary who came from England really is neither here nor there. What’s important is cultural awareness and continuity, and that is a two-way street.
Just as the Irish adopted the spirit of the American Saint Patrick’s Day, anyone who wants to give their Hibernian levels a boost should listen to the Irish before they smoke that first shamrock. For example, corned beef was the food of the poor Irish immigrant, not the food of their homeland, and Guinness was invented in London, not Dublin (but I never told you that). We have many things to share about the soggy rock we all call home, and all of them are far more impressive than how hard you can drink and fight things. After all, Saint Patrick is the patron saint of the island known as the Land of Saints and Scholars, not Clowns and Loud Mouths; let’s keep it that way. Erin go bragh. Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!
Irish immigrants’ influence abounds in our fair state
Of all the stories in Irish legend, few have captured more imaginations than the mystical kingdom of Tír na nÓg. It is said that beyond the western horizon lies a magical land of youth and opportunity, and for a thousand generations voices across Ireland have echoed this tale to the eager ears of enchanted youth. Some old timers say that the first Irishmen to set foot in the lands to the west were fifth century monks and – true or not – from that moment on, Tír na nÓg and the New World were inextricably linked; the lines between myth and reality blurred just enough for Irishmen to believe that cresting the horizon might just be possible. When Europeans eventually did move in large numbers across the Atlantic in the colonial period, many of those early adventurers were from Ireland.
But few found the Tír na nÓg of legend. The colonies were not immediately welcoming of the Irish, and many found themselves living on the frontier to act as an unofficial barrier between the coastal settlements and Indian country. In the 1820s, what was once a trickle of Emerald emigrants grew into a flood, and Rhode Island became a magnet for young men seeking guaranteed work, which frequently meant hard labor. Many of those who dug the Blackstone Valley channel were immigrants from Ireland; the diggers weren’t plucky adventurers seeking a brave new world, however, but veterans of canal projects in Ireland and England following a career. One such professional digger was Michael Reddy, a young Catholic laborer who settled in Woonsocket in 1826. But Reddy, like many others, faced discrimination, in part due to the Catholic faith shared by many of his fellow countrymen. Reddy pushed for acceptance and inclusion, and through his efforts and those of others like him, Woonsocket became a stronghold for Irish immigrants, with 2,300 of the town’s 8,000 residents coming from Ireland by 1859. But Woonsocket was not alone. Irish immigration to RI skyrocketed in the 1840s and 1850s, largely due to the Great Hunger of 1845 – 1849, a tragedy of untold devastation that cut Ireland’s population by 25%. Again, the reception was a frosty one, with IRISH NEED NOT APPLY signs scattered the length and breadth of the state.
But the Irish persevered, and over the years established numerous literary and temperance societies, all the while buttressing the state’s Democrat party. Irish women also made a mark in a time when it was difficult to do so, securing jobs that ranged from seamstresses to textile mill operatives and teachers, with both genders joining and establishing labor unions. By the dawn of the 20th century, the Irish had become the largest ethnic group in the state, and RI became the first in the nation with a Catholic majority.
Upon this solidly green foundation have been built the careers of many Irish luminaries. Joseph Banigan arrived in RI in the late 1880s and became a leading industrialist and philanthropist. As the first Irish Catholic millionaire in Providence, Banigan used his influence for good, working first with the Little Sisters of the Poor and later establishing St. Maria’s home for Working Girls to support young women employed by the mills.
Bishop Thomas Hendricken was born in Kilkenny in 1827 and was ordained the first bishop of Providence in April 1872. It was Hendricken who oversaw construction on the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in downtown PVD, and on Thanksgiving 1878, a slab of Kilkenny marble was laid as its cornerstone. More recently, RI can point to runner John Treacy, a native of County Waterford and resident of PVD who claimed a silver medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics. And then you have their descendants. Providence-born J. Joseph Garrahy was Rhody’s “people’s governor” in the 1970s, perhaps most fondly remembered for guiding the state through the devastating blizzard of 1978, while ass-kicking Florence Kerins Murray was a force for anyone to reckon with. Not only was she appointed a Superior Court judge in 1956, but became chief justice in 1978. Still unconvinced? Just the following year, Murray became RI’s first female state Supreme Court justice.
The conclusion? 1. Give immigrants a chance … and 2. as Rhody’s latest blow-in from the Emerald Isle, I’ve got a lot to live up to. n