(Originally published — March 17, 2015)
There’s a misconception perpetuated by some living in Ireland that the Irish-Americans have no claim to Irish heritage. Given the sheer numbers of Irish who have left that island in search of a better life, it seems rather shortsighted. At what point can you no longer claim your Irish heritage? Is it measured by years abroad, generations removed or overall cultural neglect?
Here in Hoboken, you’d be hard pressed to say anyone neglects the Irish. For years our St. Patrick’s Day Parade was the largest in New Jersey. Eventually tens of thousands of our neighbors came into town to celebrate it with us, and that’s where it got somewhat messy.
We all know the Parade is gone, as much a victim of Irish-American stereotypes as New York Metro Area stereotypes. But for many here in Hoboken, Irish heritage goes much deeper than a parade.
Marching Beyond March
“Being Irish is not a one day a year event for me,” says Bill Noonan, still reigning Grand Marshal of the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “As I think of the nearly 100 people the parade honored over 25 years, the list of accomplishments and community service efforts is astonishing. From working to help with peace in Ireland, to work in Hoboken through charitable organizations, churches, business leaders and people in the arts— the contributions to Hoboken and Hudson County by Irish-Americans would fill ledgers. As people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day it is a brief moment for us to reflect on our heritage, what it means to us—family, faith, traditions.”
Noonan continues to work in the community via business organizations, through the Elks and organizations like TRUE Mentors. In addition, he’s working to help bring Irish culture to the US through an original Celtic Ballet based on an Irish fable that is written by Irish ballerina Monica Loughman.
Dance plays a vital role in Irish culture, as Louise Barry can tell you.
“My sister Joanna is the Irish Step Master in Garden Street School of the Performing Arts. As a member of Joanna’s dance company Emerald Fire, we have performed at countless Hoboken Festivals, many times with her fab Garden Street students,” says Barry.
Like many generations before her, she has made Hoboken her home away from home.
“Even though I grew up in the city in Dublin, I was always close to water. Now I’ve just traded the smelly Liffey for the smelly Hudson,” says Barry. “I love the feel of Hoboken. There’s such beauty everywhere and I love the ‘villagey’ atmosphere. It’s great that everything is within walking distance but mostly I love the water.”
Changing of the Guards
David Cosgrove’s parents grew up in Ireland, instilling in their New Jersey-born son a strong connection to his ancestral home. Above all, Cosgrove inherited a passion for the Irish sport of hurling—part baseball, hockey lacrosse and rugby. Cosgrove harnessed that passion to help establish the Hoboken Guards Hurling Club, New Jersey’s first squad in the New York GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), and one of that league’s most competitive.
“Hurling has a 156-year-old connection to Hoboken,” says Cosgrove. “One of the first hurling matches in America, a contingent of 30 men from Kenmare, Co. Kerry, living between in the Five Points region of Manhattan took the ferry to Hoboken.”
Over the past five seasons, the Hoboken Guards have cultivated quite a following—expanding to include the female sport of camogie (nearly identical to hurling). While turning Hobokenites on to Gaelic games, they’ve managed to turn a few Gaels on to Hoboken.
“I had been living in Manhattan for a year, and although it was amazing, it was complete chaos on a daily basis,” says Jane McCooey, from Keady, in Co. Armagh. “I had been traveling back and forth to Hoboken for camogie training, and I realized how close to the city it is, and how beautiful an area it is. While in Manhattan you do not get to view the amazing skyline. “
Niamh Tierney, from New Inn, Co. Galway, is also part of the Hoboken Guards squad. “For me, there is no place like Hoboken. It offers both a fun aspect while also being quaint and family friendly. I had a few friends visit me and they always love the bars, restaurants and atmosphere,” says Tierney. “It has that New York feel with outdoor seating of busy restaurants lining the streets, but without so much of the rush and bustle that NYC is known for.”
Celebrating the Irish
With a contemporary infusion of Irish-American culture, an authentic representation of Hoboken’s Irish heritage is determined to persevere despite recent setbacks.
“Honestly, it really doesn’t matter where you put us, we’ll always get on grand,” says Barry. “Most people will have some Irish heritage. We’re a relatively tiny country but we do like to spread ourselves around. Hoboken makes it especially easy though. The people are lovely and it makes me laugh that I’m known as ‘the Irish one’ in some establishments.”
“Being part of Hoboken’s Irish-American community is really important to me, as it enables me to sustain my passion for my Irish culture, heritage and sports,” says McCooey. “There are so many wonderful Irish people living in Hoboken, as well as the many Americans that are keen to explore our proud Irish culture. To be a part of this effort is really important to me so that I stay true to my roots, but it is also a privilege to be able to enlighten people as we strive to build our clubs and bring joy to the community.”
Tierney echoes that sentiment. “To be a part of Hoboken Irish culture here is brilliant! Having a home away from home makes all the difference and for me, people are key components in what I consider home whether they are Irish, American or whatever.”
For Cosgrove, he sees hurling as a way to honor his family’s heritage while serving as proud ambassadors for Hoboken in general. “Hurling is Ireland’s pride, and I’m proud to wear the Hoboken Guards black, red and white, to carry the hurley over my shoulder with people of all cultures in the club reborn in the town I love.”
The theme of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin last year was “Celebrate Now.” What has passed is past, and who knows what lies ahead, but there’s plenty to appreciate here in the moment.
That said, there is certainly room for improvement in the celebration of Irish Heritage here in town.
To that end, the Hoboken Irish Cultural Festival will be taking place May 21 at Sinatra Park. Sponsored by Irish Network New Jersey, with cooperation from the Consulate General of Ireland, the aim is to put forth a more authentic representation of Irish culture. There will be beer, but there will also be Irish dance, Gaelic games demonstrations and live music.
“I’m not a fan of what some think it means to be Irish in a place like Hoboken,” says Barry. “Namely LepreCon. I’m in no way ‘offended’ by the fun filled fest itself but getting out of your mind drunk and getting arrested in my country’s name before most people even have their morning coffee is embarrassing. I can hold my drink and not make a complete Eejit (idiot) out of myself,” she says.
“Dance around, have a few drinks and sing at the top of your lungs, but please don’t end up passed out on the street, and please don’t put yourself or others in danger. Be safe,” says Barry.
“Right, my Mammy speech is over, I’ll hop off my soapbox now.”