“You’re a English Bastard, You’re a Irish Bastard”
is funny way to explain the situation of Irish folks born outside of Ireland. Stephen Gara, a friend, musician who plays in Neck, and who currently lives in the Hudson Valley was born in London to Irish parents. He told how the English referred to him as “the Irish Bastard.” But when he went back ‘home’ as they called Ireland, the folks there called him “the English Bastard.” But more on Stephen and his interesting story later!
While talking to Eddie of London Celtic Punks, we decided it might be interesting to write an article about the Irish who are outside of Ireland and their experience. Like the London Celtic Punks, we’ve also got the American Irish, world famous and well known now. New York and Boston are probably the most famous cities for their Irish immigrants. But New Orleans was the third most popular destination for Irish immigrants at one time.
This story will focus on where I live, the Hudson Valley, New York, USA and the Irish who live here. It is about 2 to 3 hours north of NYC up the Hudson River and would include the cities of Peekskill, Newburgh and Kingston.
IRISH BY THE NUMBERS
The population of Ireland is a grand 4.8 million or so as of 2017 (*1). The UK Irish Population is 869,00 as of 2001. 6 million people live in the UK who have an Irish Grandparent (10% of the population)(*2.)
AMERICAN IRISH POPULATION
Irish-Americans number 34.5 million, or 7 times the population of Ireland. Irish is the second most common ancestry of Americans, just behind German. (3.) 10% of the USA population is of Irish Descent (4.) The city of Boston has the highest Irish percentage, 21.5%, followed by Philadelphia at 14.5%. (5.) 126,000 people born in Ireland live in the USA.
The highest concentrations of Irish descent in America are the Mid-Atlantic States and New England. Mid- Atlantic includes Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The New England region is Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Maine. By population they should rightfully call the region New Ireland, not ‘New England’.
New York has the highest sheer number of Irish by descent in the USA, 2.5 million excluding California which has 2.6 million. (6.)
And lest we forget, Ireland’s first president Eamon de Valera was born in NYC in 1882.
NYC’s SAINT PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL AND SAINT PATRICK’S DAY PARADE
The First New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was on March 17, 1762, 14 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Homesick Irish serving in the British Army organised it and played the pipes, wore green, and spoke Irish, all of which were forbidden at the time in their native homeland. (7A)
In 1837, John Joseph Hughes, nick-named ‘Dagger John’ because he signed his name beginning with a cross, was made Archbishop of the NYC Archdiocese. Born in County Tyrone in 1797, he emigrated with his family to America in 1816 to escape persecution by Orangemen. (7B)
In May and June of 1844, Nativist riots in Philadelphia led to Irish- American homes being attacked and burned. More than 30 homes were burned and the militia was called out. (7C) After 2 Catholic churches and a seminary in Philadelphia were torched by Anti-Catholic Protestant mobs, Archbishop Hughes put armed guards with brickbats at Catholic Churches and he invoked memories of Russia before Napoleon’s troops, saying “If a single Catholic church is burned in New York, the city would become a second Moscow.” (7C) New York City leaders believed him, and the Anti-Catholic Nativist Protestant march was not allowed to happen.
The land for the present Saint Patrick’s Cathedral had been acquired by the diocese in 1810. In 1853, Archbishop John Joseph Hughes intends to build the present day Cathedral on it. Building was begun in 1858 and completed in 1879. By then , Archbishop Hughes had died in 1864. (7D)
HUDSON VALLEY: MUCH IN COMMON WITH LONDON IRISH
I interviewed four people Stephen Gara, Terry McCann, Jim Carey and Bill Kearney to get their personal stories and unique points of view. They represent a broad assortment of Irish immigration waves. Stephen, Terry, and Sean are musicians and Jim and Bill are the President and Vice-President of the Ulster County AOH respectively. For those unfamiliar, the Ancient Order of Hibernians is a charitable fraternal organisation formed by Irish Catholics to protect churches from destruction by Protestant mobs and to aid widows and orphans.
Over a course of a coupla-three-four pints at a break in a T. McCann Band gig in Kingston, I spoke with Stephen Gara and Terry McCann.
First generation Stephen Gara is the newest Irish comer to the Hudson Valley. He played with the London Irish Punk band Neck for many years, recorded three albums with them, and toured Ireland with them opening for Black 47. When forced to pick, his favourite Neck album is Sod ‘Em & Begorrah. He is master musician on the tin whistles, uilleann pipes, and highland Bagpipes. He is the newest immigrant to the Hudson Valley coming here to live with his wife in Peekskill, NY. They met when she toured Ireland on a Black 47 tour that brought “busloads of Irish-Americans around Ireland” on their tour. They fell in love and the rest is history. He moved to Amerikay to be with her and they now have a young son named Paddy. His parents were born in Donegal. Though born in London, he proudly only has, and has only ever had, an Irish passport. He told me how he was surprised to see American flags hung with papal flags on the altars of Catholic churches in America. Yes, well they wouldn’t put the Union Jack up in a Catholic church in England!
Stephen points out that there are more bagpipe bands in New York State than in all of Scotland. He also marches with the Firefighter McPadden Pipes and Drums. The band is named after a fire fighter who lost his life on 9/11/01 in NYC. Many NYC firefighters live in the Hudson Valley as it is a relatively short one hour commute to NYC to work.
Stephen Gara now plays uilleann pipes and tin whistles with T. McCann in the Terry McCann Band.
Terry McCann is a multi-talented musician who’s alto voice can hit the highest of notes when he’s strumming his mandolin. The leader of the T.McCann Band, he often breaks out into a jig set on a special wooden stage when playing. This is a real treat. Terry lives in Red Hook , NY on the “other side” of the Hudson River (the Connecticut or east side). By day he teaches Math to surly Middle Schoolers in Kingston when not running Marathons. They have their first album out, a recording of Irish Trad songs called “All for the Grog.” Terry’s personal fave from the album is “The Curr of Kildare.” Third-generation Terry was born in Kingston NY and Grandparents came from County Derry but had first migrated to Glasgow, Scotland. There Terry’s grandfather met his grandmother and they ended up in the USA working in sand and gravel pits in Long Island. Terry’s Dad Dennis, is the youngest of 11 kids. Terrence is named after his uncle, Terrence Michael.
THE ULSTER COUNTY AOH
Jim Carey and Bill Kearney are the President and Vice-President respectively of the Ulster County AOH, Ancient Order of the Hibernians. They are both fifth generation or so Irish immigrants. They revitalised the organisation in about 2002 when, Jim says, everyone in the AOH at the time was “Older than dirt!” Jim and Bill were elected as officers and the first they did was start up a bagpipe band., The Ulster County AOH Pipe and Drums. This brought in lots of new and younger members, and lessons were and still are free. You get set up with a kilt and all the gear, and sometimes even a loaner set of pipes if there’s one left about. The first parade the pipe band did in 2002 they only knew 2 songs, The Minstrel Boy and the Marine Corp Hymn. They played those two songs over and over during the 3 mile parade. The laughingly said they were lucky cuz the crowd never knew as they just kept marching along to fresh audiences along the route.
Jim and Bill both tell that their relatives came over in the 1850’s straight to the Hudson Valley area to build the D&H Canal. The Delaware and Hudson Canal was a very big deal up here. It moved coal from deep in Pennsylvania to Kingston, NY where it was then shipped down the Hudson River to heat NYC.
Later the canal was used to ship some of the best naturally occurring cement in the world, Rosendale Cement, from Rosendale, NY, which is just south of Kingston, down to NYC to build the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1860’s. The Canal was closed in 1898. Yet the D& H Canal was open for 60 years, starting in 1828. Kingston’s first Catholic Church, St. Mary’s on Broadway opened in 1835, and later St. Joseph’s in Kingston in 1868.(8) Today, St. Mary’s is the home of a large stone Celtic cross that is the basis of a memorial to the great hunger in Ireland. It was erected on the Church grounds by the Ulster County AOH.
Jim Carey’s great-great paternal grandfathers Carey and Tully, came from County Tipperary in 1850’s. His maternal great-great grandfathers Cooney and Eagan came at the same time. Before the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Jim tried the Knights of Columbus but being run by Italians, they told him to ‘Beat it’! Since that time Jim says he’s
“swung over to the Olive Branch of the Family tree”
by marrying an Italian, the lovely and gracious Fran Carey, the first time a family member has left the Irish enclave since 1850! She puts up with the Pipe Band and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade with charm!
Bill’s Great-grandfather James Kearney was one of eight children and came over in 1860 from County Meath. Bill’s wife’s uncle re-started the then defunct Ulster County AOH in 1969. Bill’s father wanted him to join as a young man, but it was only for the very old and a boring operation at that time.
Bill and Jim, besides starting the pipe band set up a great Irish Festival in 1998 with the help of Bill Yosh another AOH member and local legend. For many years Bill has hosted a famous local Irish music radio show. They started what is called the Hooley in Kingston and it draws about 20,000 people per year. It is always the Sunday before Labor Day, which in America is the first Monday on September and a National holiday. Sponsored and produced by the Ulster County AOH, The Hooley has hosted such acts as Black 47, and Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones. The Irish Ambassador, based in NYC, is normally in attendance. Guinness is a sponsor and the beer follows freely. The Ulster County AOH Pipe and Drum band performs several sets and there is a National Stage and a Local Talent Stage. Where I have been lucky enough to performed for several years with my family band, The Wild Irish Roses. They have recently added a Trad Stage which features performers from Ireland who perform mainly in the Irish Language.
The Ulster County AOH has broken ground on a grand Irish Cultural Center in Kingston New York, the county seat. Referred to as the ICCHV (Irish Cultural Center of the Hudson Valley) It is to be a grand hall for the Irish overlooking the Hudson River access of Kingston. The concept for the ICCHV was born in 2011, when a group of well established residents and business leaders set their minds on creating and celebrating the passionate community that is the Irish-American experience.
A CHANCE MEETING
I first saw Blood or Whiskey when I did not know it or expect it. In 2001 I returned from a trip to Ireland with a great new CD in hand. Picked up in a music shop, The Record Room in Sligo, it was Blood or Whiskey’s first album, produced by Kim Fowley. Little did I expect to see them on the cover of the local Hudson Valley newspaper when I returned to the USA! They were actually playing near me that weekend in Middletown, NY at a punk rock fest at a bar called the Celtic Horse. The festival was organized by the guys in The Anti-Socials who were huge Blood or Whiskey fans, Los Jimbos and Jimmy Pogo, who I didn’t know at the time, but have become great friends with since. About 4 great punk bands played and BoW headlined the show. They were in the States touring , promoting the album No Time To Explain which was just out. The Anti-Socials, The Nogoodnix were two of the supporting bands opening up for BoW and they were great. Years later, about 2011, I met James Pogo again through his new band The Armedalite Rifles, who I now play bass for, when sharing the bill at a local club. I was fronting in a Heavy Psych band called The Brian Wilson Shock Treatment at the time.
And me? I’m third generation, my grandfather Joseph Patrick Michael Mullally being born on St. Patrick’s Day in Kilross, County Tipperary. March 17, 1913. World War I broke out, and with German subs sinking neutral ships, he did not see his parents until he was 5 years old in 1918 when the war ended. At the age of 5, he emigrated through Ellis Island with an aunt and his name is on the wall there. Three of my daughters and me play bagpipes and march with the Ulster County AOH Pipe and Drum Band. My son Aenghus is a snare drummer. The Templars of Doom, my Irish Punk band has our second album out Hovels Of The Holy. We’re looking forward to travelling to Toronto to play our first ‘international’ gig in May and hope to make it over to London sometime soon. Say “Hello!” and we’ll share a pint if we meet! Slainte! – Michael X. Rose
1. Eurostat via Google
2. Irish Diaspora Wikipedia
3. Washington Post, 3/17/2013
4. 2016 US Census.
6. US Census Bureau vis mongabay.com 7A. here
7B. NY Times , Don’t Mess with Dagger John, March 7, 2018
7D. Wikipedia, “John Hughes, Archbishop of New York
Huge thanks to Mike for writing this great article and with good folk like himself the Irish-American community will continue to go from strength to strength. Here’s a few links for you to check out his most excellent band The Templars Of Doom.
(you can hear the new Templars Of Doom album Hovels Of The Holy for free -before you buy it!- on the Bandcamp player below)