When I saw St. Patrick's Day on the calendar, I Googled "Irish Seattle" and what I got first was a list of pubs.
When I saw St. Patrick’s Day on the calendar, I Googled “Irish Seattle” and what I got first was a list of pubs.
But you know, there’s a lot more to it than that, so I called John Keane, who may be the most enthusiastic celebrant of this area’s Irish connections.
“I left Ireland in 1967,” he told me. “That was 44 years ago, so I guess I’m stuck.” He chuckled about that, but said that like most Irish immigrants he’d intended to go back and missed Ireland terribly at first.
Keane put together a book of photographs and stories about Puget Sound’s Irish heritage, “Irish Seattle” (Arcadia Publishing, 2007).
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The Army brought lots of Irish to the West, and the Klondike gold rush in the late 1890s brought thousands of Irish immigrants to Seattle. But even before that there were a few Irish among the first Europeans in the territory.
Redmond was named by Irish immigrant Luke McRedmond. Marysville was founded by James Comeford, who named it for his wife.
The Burke-Gilman Trail? State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Burke was the son of immigrants. He spoke up against the 1886 anti-Chinese riots. He appealed especially to fellow Irishmen to remember their own mistreatment.
Edward O’Dea, another son of immigrants, became a bishop. The Fighting Irish of O’Dea High School carry his name.
It was hard times that made Keane leave home at 24. And that is so often the case with immigrants. They come for work or security, then add to the richness of America.
The latest census has spawned a stream of news stories about the ways in which current immigration is remaking the face of America. Some stories carry a sense of amazement and even wariness. We will change for sure, but that’s always been the story.
The Irish weren’t always welcome, but they made themselves at home, and we are the better for it.
The Irish connection is not just history. It is very much alive. Keane listed several companies that have Irish roots, including Dublin-based NewBay Software, which opened its U.S. headquarters in Seattle last fall.
Washington state exports to Ireland amounted to $1.6 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
And we have our sister city, Galway, chosen because it has so much in common with Seattle.
Keane has lived elsewhere, but he and his wife moved to Seattle in 1978 because it is so much like Ireland — the climate, the plants. New York was hot and muggy in the summer, Detroit too cold, but Seattle feels right.
Keane has been celebrating the connections this week (he was parade chair), but it’s not about the beer for him.
“It seems to me that the green beer indicates the distance from Ireland,” he said. “It’s not at all authentically Irish.” And neither is getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day.
“I never attended a parade in Ireland. You went to church and maybe went to a football game in the afternoon, and the pubs were closed because it was a holy day.”
But what the heck. It’s the American way of acknowledging our Irish roots. We create our own versions of everything from Cinco de Mayo to Hanukkah.
America is a constant creation flavored by diverse ingredients. Enjoy a pint, but don’t overdo.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.