Lifetime bonds at heart of America’s most Irish towns

People celebrating their Irish roots in Scituate, Massachusetts, USA, a picturesque coastal town near the tip of Cape Cod which has been officially designated as “the most Irish town in America”.

Think of the Irish heartlands in the United States and the mind will automatically focus on those centres where the Celtic footprint is traditionally greatest — New York, Boston, San Francisco.

Over the past 200 years, the Irish experience in America has seen the tricolour fly in major cities as well as hundreds of smaller locales around the vast continent — some much less well known than others.

Take, for instance, the Massachusetts town with an unusual name — Scituate. Unusual though its moniker may be, there’s no disputing the Irish credentials of this picturesque coastal town near the tip of Cape Cod — a place officially designated as “the most Irish town in America”.

Data from the 2010 US census found that the Massachusetts town is home to a higher concentration of people who trace their heritage to Ireland than any other place in the United States. Founded in the 17th century, Scituate’s status as an Irish enclave began following the Famine and the subsequent enormous emigration to America.

Legend of Carrageen Moss

Legend has it that a fisherman named Daniel Ward discovered carrageenan — otherwise known as Irish moss — growing beneath the rocks along the town’s shoreline.

A new industry was born, and ‘Irish mossing’ became a thriving business, used in a variety of products from beer to cosmetics. The red algae raked from the sea floor at low tide was used as a thickener in ice cream, as well as having uses in beer, wine, medicine and in calico dye manufacturing.

Mossers working at both low tides could gather as much as 1,000 pounds weight a day, spreading the seaweed on the beach to dry and packing it into crates.

A full-time job for Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century, one of them famously declared: “It’s a great farm we have out there. We don’t have to plow [sic] it or plant it, but it gives us four crops a season.”

While the industry did eventually die out, it did leave the legacy of creating ‘the Irish Riviera’ in nearby towns like Quincy, Randolph, Marshfield, Weymouth and Kingston.

After the second world war the migration continued right up to the ’60s as returning GIs from Boston, Hyde Park and Dorchester moved to the South Shore suburbs. Today the Irish Riviera proudly displays its Irish lineage with flags, Catholic churches and schools, pubs, restaurants and bakeries.

Dancers performing at Ohio’s hugely popular annual Dublin Irish Festival, which is regularly attended by more than 100,000 people each year.
Dancers performing at Ohio’s hugely popular annual Dublin Irish Festival, which is regularly attended by more than 100,000 people each year.

In 2016, Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Declan Hurley together with the chief executive of Cork County Council, Tim Lucey, signed a formal twinning agreement with representatives of Scituate.

“Scituate Harbour is a hive of marine activities much like many west Cork towns such as Schull and Baltimore,” Mayor Hurley said.

“Likewise, with our Taste of West Cork and Scituate’s annual restaurant week, we both showcase all our region has to offer in food and food tourism. There are huge opportunities for us to share ideas, food producer exchanges and marine tourism.”

Tim Lucy noted how the twinning was a natural progression for west Cork and Scituate:

Following on from a friendship pact, this twinning will develop permanent ties between our communities from a tourism, cultural and educational perspective and is one which I am confident will be mutually beneficial.

Scituate Select Chair, Maura Curran, added: “Scituate already has deep bonds of affection for Ireland and this agreement will only serve to deepen and strengthen those bonds.

“The similarities between Scituate and Cork County and west Cork make this twinning agreement a natural fit and we look forward to seeing the positive results of this agreement come to fruition.”

A half-dozen Dublins in America’s heartland

Ireland’s capital city has, like a fine wine, travelled well — in fact there are six of them across the USA.

Dublin, Pennsylvania, is a town with a population of 2,120 — of which 474 are Irish Americans — which accounts for 20% of the total.

Dublin, Virginia, is 19% Irish American, with some 507 the 2,665 population claiming Irish ancestry.

Dublin, Ohio, is a Midwest town of 43,224, with 6,187 claiming ancestry in the ‘Auld Sod’ — 14%. It also hosts the Dublin Irish Festival, attended by more than 100,000 people each year — one of the largest celebrations of Irish American culture in North USA.

Boston, USA.
Boston, USA.

In the Lone Star state, Dublin, Texas, has an 11% Irish American population out of 3,671 residents, and was designated it the official Irish Capital of the Lone Star State by Governor Rick Perry in 2005.

On the West Coast, the Californian town of Dublin is a popular suburb of San Francisco, with a population of 52,063 — of which 4,172 are Irish Americans, making up 8%.

And last, but not least, there’s Dublin, Georgia, way down South. Out of a population of 16,181, some 453 are Irish — almost 3%. Rather interestingly, the town merited a mention in James Joyce’s celebrated novel, Finnegan’s Wake.

Hands across the ocean: America’s long established ties to Ireland

Today, more than 155,000 people are directly employed in over 700 US firms in Ireland, and which also indirectly support a further 100,000 jobs in the Irish economy, in total accounting for 20% of employment.

Collectively US investment in Ireland amounts to $387bn, an increase of 16% from 2015.

The Industrial Development Authority of Ireland won more than 237 overseas investments in 2017, creating almost 19,851 new jobs. US firms remain the largest source of new investment, and investment in 2017 accounted for 67% of all foreign direct investment in Ireland.

In a geographical spread that encompasses much of the country, the US multinational footprint stretches from Dublin to Galway, Wexford to Mayo and Cork to Donegal.

Ireland is the EU gateway for many US firms accessing European and international markets. Ireland, which represents just 1% of the European economy, attracted 12.1% of all US FDI investment to Europe in 2016.

US companies are also responsible for major social benefits in their local communities and throughout Ireland through providing innovative and inclusive social impact programmes and other activities.

In 2015 alone, employees of US companies contributed over 600,000 work supported volunteer hours to 7,300 CSR projects.

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