Days long ago when people from Cork, Galway, Mayo, and all over the rest of Ireland descended upon New York City it became their Island of Dreams. They worked on the subways, built all the bridges, fought off the fires, ran the saloons, and even took City Hall. These are just a few of the reasons why New York City has such a grand tradition of celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day.
The New York parade has not only become the largest Saint Patrick's Day parade in the world but it is also the oldest civilian parade in the world. In a typical year, nearly 200,000 marchers participate in it, including marching bands, firefighters, military and police groups from all over the world, county associations, emigrant societies, and social and cultural clubs. Millions of spectators line the streets.
The five hour parade marches up the 1.5 mile route along 5th Avenue in Manhattan, and is always led by the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment. (Fun fact: The 69th Infantry is the original owner of "Fighting Irish" nickname, which the University of Notre Dame inherited via chaplains who served with the unit during the Civil War.) The Commissioner of the parade always asks the Commanding Officer if the 69th is ready, to which the response is, "The 69th is always ready."
Where the Irish settled and what it's like today
While many areas within Manhattan had large pockets of Irish populations, historically speaking, Hell’s Kitchen is the most identifiable boundary. The beginnings of the neighborhood that would become known as Hell's Kitchen start in the mid 19th century, when immigrants from Ireland, most of whom were refugees from the Great Famine, began settling on the west side of Manhattan in shantytowns along the Hudson River. Many of these immigrants found work on the docks nearby, or along the railroad that carried freight into the city along 11th Avenue.
Once a bastion of poor and working-class Irish Americans, over the last three decades of the 20th century and into the new century, Hell's Kitchen has undergone tremendous gentrification as a result of is proximity to Midtown.
So let’s take a look at Hell’s Kitchen today:
Economically speaking, when the Irish began to transition from ‘making ends meet’ to making a life here in the New York, they began to branch out into other neighborhoods in the boroughs; Rockaway, Sunnyside, Breezy Point, Marine Park all became havens for the first and second generation Irish, but few would argue that there is any neighborhood in all of New York City that is more Irish then Woodlawn in the Bronx.
Walking down McLean Avenue in Woodlawn mimics a stroll down the streets of Dublin. McLean Avenue pays true homage to the homeland of many of its residents. Here are some quick facts about Woodlawn:
Let us always remember, through the joys and the heartbreak, the weddings and wakes, they left New York City Irish forever…
Image Credit: Michal Osmenda on Flickr.com