Today, St. Patrick’s Day in the US is synonymous with posting up at the local Irish pub at 3:00 PM, green Jell-O shots, and breaking out that embarrassing green shirt you can only wear once a year. In the drunken haze, we often forget that the holiday is actually a celebration of Irish culture. The Irish experience in the US has been long and difficult, and it is, in many cases, an example of the American Dream in action. Taking some time around St. Patrick’s Day to consider the rich history of the Irish in America, and even visit some cultural significant landmarks, will make you appreciate the holiday a lot more. Whether you go before hitting the pub or as a way to distract yourself from the hangover, these are the Irish cultural sites you should consider visiting this year.
1. The Tenement Museum, New York City
Nowhere is the immigrant experience better documented than the Tenement Museum in New York City’s Lower East Side. The museum focuses on Jewish, Irish, and other immigrants who came to the US in the late 1800s and faced prejudice as they struggled to make a life for themselves in a new country. The Irish Outsiders apartment tour is the best example of this. It tells the story of one immigrant family who arrived in America in the mid-1860s, when Irish immigrants were looked upon unfavorably. They lived on the grounds of what is now the Tenement Museum, along with many other immigrant families. Visiting their historic dwelling will not only give you an appreciation for the early Irish experience in America but also show how other minority communities adapted to life in the US.
Where: 103 Orchard Street, New York, NY, 10002
2. Irish Channel, New Orleans
The Irish of New Orleans settled in a neighborhood called the Irish Channel, within the Garden District area. Immigrants came here from Ireland in the early 19th century, and the neighborhood quickly developed a rough reputation due to its multitude of Irish street gangs. Since then, the Irish Channel has cleaned up its act and hosts the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and other events. The Irish Channel Corner Club is a pillar of the neighborhood, bringing a dose of Irish music and culture to New Orleans’ parades.
3. Chicago Gaelic Park, Chicago
Chicago is famous for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration wherein the city dyes the river green, but for a more authentic Irish experience, head to Chicago Gaelic Park. Opened in 1985 as a place to promote Irish heritage and culture, the park hosts Irish dancing, music lessons, concerts, and is home to the Carraig Irish Pub. The Irish Famine Monument is also located inside the park, dedicated to the millions who died of starvation or were forced to immigrate during the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1850. It portrays a poor family being evicted from their ravaged home, illustrating the trying conditions the Irish were forced to endure.
Where: 6119 W. 147th Street, Oak Forest, IL 60452
4. McSorley’s Old Ale House, New York City
Boston might be known for its Irish pubs, but the distinction of being home to the oldest Irish pub in the country belongs to New York City. McSorley’s Old Ale House was opened in 1854 by John McSorley who arrived in the US from Ireland just four years prior. Due to its notoriety, it’s become a popular tourist attraction, but that doesn’t take away from its classic atmosphere. It has been featured in paintings and has been frequented by notable guests like Abraham Lincoln, Hunter S. Thompson, and Woody Guthrie. Deciding on a drink there is easy; the pub only serves its own brew, which comes in two varieties — “light” and “dark” — for outrageously cheap prices (by NYC standards).
Where: 5 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003
5. St. Patrick, Missouri
The town of St. Patrick, Missouri, went the extra mile to show off its Irish heritage by changing its name from North Santa Fe to St. Patrick in 1857. With a population of 24 people, the town was originally settled by Irish immigrants, who brought with them a strong Catholic faith. Its most notable landmark is the Shrine of Saint Patrick, a church originally built in 1956, and modeled after St. Patrick’s Memorial Church of Four Masters in County Donegal, Ireland.
And in case you’re looking for a souvenir from your epic trip to St. Patrick, make sure you stop at the post office. It issues a one-of-a-kind stamp not available anywhere else in the world, with a shamrock symbol, Irish hat and pipe, and the words “St. Patrick, Missouri: The Only One in the World.”
6. John J. Burns Library, Boston
It comes as no surprise that the richest collection of Irish cultural and political artifacts in the US is located in Boston. The John J. Burns Library in Boston College is known for its Irish American collections, as well as its works that reflect the college’s Jesuit heritage.