By Gerry Breen
Evidence of the indelible impression made by Irish emigrants to America is to be found in the names of cities and towns right across the land of their adoption. In different parts of the United States people could be regularly talking about Dublin although they’ve never seen Ireland.
There are no fewer that fifteen Dublins scattered throughout America – Dublin is a town in North Carolina.
It is also a town in Franklin County, Ohio, and in thirteen other locations, including California, Georgia, Kentucky and Michigan. No wonder, then, that many American tourists refer to Dublin, Ireland – with so many locations bearing the same name, it is common sense to be precise.
If you ever found yourself in a little town in Iowa, you might wonder why a statue of the Irish patriot, Robert Emmet, is sited in a prominent position. There’s a very simple explanation – the name of the town is Emmetsburg which has a proud history of Irish settlement.
In fact, it used to be known as the ‘Irish Colony’. It was settled in 1855 by pioneers and was occupied by a number of Irish families, including the Nolans, Laughlins, Nearys and Hickeys. The name was officially changed to Emmetsburg in November, 1877.
The original sculpture of Robert Emmet by Jerome O’Connor was erected in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin in 1916. The statue of Robert Emmet which is the centrepiece of Court House Square in Emmetsburg was cast in 1919.
Emmetsburg is very proud of its Irish associations and the town holds its biggest celebration of the year on St. Patrick’s Day. On 17th March, 1962, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and the Mayor of Emmetsburg signed a proclamation declaring their two cities to be sister cities.
There are four Irelands in America, one each in Alabama, West Virginia, Indiana and Minnesota. The name Hibernian crops up in Florida, Jersey and New York, and there are five Erins scattered through the United States – Georgia, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
The Irish provinces are represented by Munster in Illinois, in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas, while Ulster lends its name to Ulster Township, Iowa; Ulster County, New York and Ulster Township, Pennsylvania.
Obviously, the Irish were great name-droppers. There are no fewer than eleven places called after Antrim; five after Belfast, three after Armagh, four after Clare, six after Newry, three after Galway, five after Kildare, three after Kilkenny, ten after Limerick, six after Derry, eight after Tyrone, four after Waterford and six after Wexford.
Twelve places are called after Avoca, the famous beauty spot in Co. Wicklow immortalised by Thomas Moore in his Irish melodies. Most Irish counties and many Irish towns and villages have leant their names to locations in America.
While Killarney may be the crowning glory in the Kingdom of Kerry, it is not the only one. There’s another Killarney in West Virginia.
Strangely enough, the place named in the United States census of 2011 as the most Irish town in America does not have an Irish name. It is Scituate, a pleasant seaside town thirty miles from Boston. All together, sixteen communities within the South Shore neighbourhoods of Boston have the highest percentages of people of Irish descent in the United States.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost fifty per cent of the residents of Scituate are of Irish descent and at least forty-four per cent of the populations in Braintree, Hull, Marshfield, Avon, Pembroke and Milton claim Irish ancestry also.
Irish Americans continue to dominate the large majority of suburban Boston. This is not really surprising, because of the millions of Irish emigrants who left this country in the second half of the last century and crossed the Atlantic to seek their fortunes, the great majority of them settled in cities on America’s eastern seaboard.
It is generally acknowledged that the most enthusiastic celebrations on 17th March are held in America and there is a very good reason for this. About forty million Americans proudly claim Irish ancestry, and New York City has the distinction of playing host to the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
That took place on 17th March, 1762, and it has since become a worldwide tradition.
It is also widely accepted that the Irish brought much more than their place-names to America. They have made distinguished contributions to almost every aspect of life in the land of their adoption.
No fewer than twenty Presidents of the United States have traced all or part of their ancestry to Ireland.
In fact, the very architect of the White House was an Irish-Catholic immigrant, James Hoban, a native of Kilkenny who had settled in Charleston, South Carolina.
In planning the home of America’s presidents, Hoban is said to have been strongly influenced by the design of Dublin’s Leinster House, which new serves as the meeting place for Dáil Éireann.