They might stand out as the only people not draped in bright green from head to toe.
Although members of the most recent wave of immigrant Irish are happy and proud to find Western New Yorkers exuberantly celebrating their culture and heritage, they also are a bit perplexed by some of our traditions.
They are more likely to wear a small bunch of fresh shamrock than a fake leprechaun beard. They don't pile into the pubs with all their pals for a night of drinking. There's no corned beef, much less green beer. And St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on one day, and that's March 17.
“I do enjoy that people here celebrate our culture as much as we do,” says Anthony Duddy from Derry.
He is one of several young professionals in their 30s who have moved from Ireland to Western New York. They emigrated for the usual reasons – education, economic opportunity or love – and have met up with other expatriates here.
“It was surprising for me, coming from New York City, to see how big the Buffalo parade is. It's impressive,” said Duddy, who earned a law degree from Fordham University before settling in his wife's hometown of Buffalo.
Some “off-the-boat” Irish meet up for Gaelic football games played by the local Gaelic Athletic Association affiliate, the Buffalo Fenians. The club's public relations officer, Padraic Walsh, from Kiltimagh, County Mayo, says the team and its supporters marched in the Old Neighborhood St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday and will join the Delaware Avenue parade today.
“We do try to stick together for the day,” he says. “After the parades, we usually head for D'Arcy McGee's Irish Pub, because our friend Conor Hawkins, from Belfast, is the manager there.”
Hawkins came to Buffalo 12 years ago to join his sister, who married a man from South Buffalo. He is often the unofficial greeter for new immigrants in his job at the pub.
“The new people who come into town, [D'Arcy McGee's] is one of the first places they stop in,” he says. “It's a bit of a hub for the immigrant Irish community, the younger people.”
Walsh and Hawkins agree that you won't usually find an Irish native decked out in green.
“How to spot a real Irish person on St. Paddy's Day? They are the only ones not wearing green,” said Walsh, laughing.
Thérèse Tully Rooney, from Galway, is the exception. For days, she proudly decks herself out in bright green, including flashing green shamrock earrings sent by her mother. She and her husband, John Rooney from Salthill, were looking forward to seeing their first Buffalo St. Patrick's Day parades with their 9-month-old son, Jason Sean. A few days ago, Thérèse posted a photo on Facebook of Jason surrounded by green, Irish-themed, shamrock-bedecked gear sent from home.
Last year, the couple attended the Manhattan parade.
“I was unbelievably shocked. There were hundreds of thousands of people,” Rooney said. “It was so nice to see everybody in good form.”
One day holiday
“March 17th is a national holiday in Ireland, no matter what day it falls,” says Walsh, who celebrates doubly because March 17 is also his birthday. “In years when the day falls during the week, it's hard for us to have as much excitement about the parade on a Saturday or Sunday … For us not having a parade on March 17 is like having Christmas in February.”
Paul Mulcaire came to Buffalo from Kilrush, County Clare, in 1986.
“I used to tell people that St. Patrick's Day is one day and it's a holy day,” he says. “I compare it to how Christmas has gone. Three months out, we're celebrating Christmas.”
The Irish natives told similar stories about how they celebrated St. Patrick's Day at home.
The first priority for the day would be to pin on a bit of real shamrock, says Sinead McNally of Belfast, who moved to Buffalo four years ago when her husband was offered a job here.
“It's a bunch of the small shamrock, wrapped in a bit of foil to keep it fresh,” she says.
Then it's off to Mass, followed by lunch or midday dinner, depending on family custom. Then the family goes to the local parade, which can include floats, bands, schools, dignitaries and people dressed as famous writers, poets and musicians.
In Galway, Thérèse Rooney says, the floats show off cultural organizations, including Galway's famous Macnas street theater company. In the rare spots that don't have a parade, people will settle in to watch the Dublin parade on television.
Then it's off to the pub as a family, with grannies sipping tea or sherry and youngsters enjoying bags of “crisps” and soft drinks.
“We used to look forward to getting a glass of Club Orange or a glass of Coke while my dad and uncles and everybody would have a few drinks,” Walsh says.
As the evening approached, there might be some informal music and even dancing.
“I know how much Guinness we sell at D'Arcy's,” Hawkins says. “It was never like that at home. It was more mellow.”
Padraic Walsh's mother might prepare a pot of cabbage and cured pork shoulder or loin, what the Irish call bacon. But there was one thing it most certainly was not – corned beef and cabbage.
“Nobody in Ireland ever ate corned beef and cabbage,” says David Slevin, from Horseleap in County Westmeath. “I came over here and people started offering it to me and I said, 'Why would I eat corned beef and cabbage?' The only corned beef I ever ate in Ireland was out of a can or a deli meat. I can only assume that when Irish immigrants first came over here, it was hard to find a shoulder of bacon, so they found corned beef as the closest substitute.”
The music Americans enjoy is also different from what is now played in Ireland, says Walsh. “Something like 'Danny Boy,' that's from back in my great-grandparents' time. The people here are remembering the stories their grandparents told them, and that's as far as it got. But it's great that they're recognizing their heritage.”
Adam Hayes, 24, a Buffalo native who lived in Ireland for four months while studying at the National University of Ireland in Galway, had some of his preconceived notions put to the test. “Before going, I had all the stereotypes about Ireland and the pubs, how people looked like and acted,” he says. “Some of those are absolutely true and some are completely false.”
Most surprising to him?
“It was maybe a month before we saw somebody in Galway with red hair,” he said.
Did he ever see any green beer in Ireland?
“No, not once,” he says.
'A great town'
“Everyone seems to want to celebrate being Irish, whatever small percentage they are,” says Rooney.
In her work as a physical therapist, her accent draws attention.
“Lots of people, especially the elderly with some Irish background, ask me, 'Oh, could you say that again to me?' ” she says. “But I like hearing the American accents too.”
“Buffalo is a great town for Irish heritage and culture,” Slevin says. “I never heard tell of Buffalo, New York, until I met my wife and moved here. I didn't expect there to be any Irish when I moved here. I really couldn't believe it when I found out. It was a lot easier to adapt to living in a different country because we have a great support system, a Gaelic football team and a lot of ex-pats.”
The enthusiastic St. Patrick's Day celebrations on both sides of the Atlantic, says Slevin, are “a testament to the imprint of Irish culture on the United States. People in America want to go to Ireland for St. Patrick's Day, but people in Ireland want to come here. You can't book flights from Ireland to the United States a couple of days before St. Patrick's Day; they're jammed, everybody wants to come. It's pretty amusing.”