Meet Me in St Louis and Belfast
The Irish came here, of course, seeking opportunity and setting out from here for points west. Others stayed and built up one of the most greatest Irish cities in the US.
A barometer of the strength of the Irish in this city of 400,000 souls (down from one million 70 years ago) is that they have not one but two St Patrick’s Day parades.
It’s no surprise then that the Ancient Order of Hibernians chose St Louis for their biennial convention, attracting 1,000 members from across 38 States.
I was privileged to be one of the few non-Hibernians at the Convention to receive the highest award the Hibernians and Ladies Hibernians — which constitute the largest organisation in Irish America — can give, the JFK Medal.
At a gala banquet on Saturday night, I told the Hibernians that I was honoured to be recognised but that my decision to travel to St Louis was motivated not only by my desire to accept this great accolade but also to thank the AOH and Ladies AOH for all they had done to build peace and justice in Ireland over the past five decades.
I said: “As publisher of the Irish Echo, I am well aware of the talent and prowess of Irish America. In fact, I believe that Thomas Cahill’s famous book, How the Irish Saved Civilization should have a sequel, ‘How Irish America Saved Ireland’. For if you want to experience the very best of Irish music, Irish literature, Irish dance, Irish theatre, and Irish culture, you have to go to America. Because it’s among Irish America that the world champion Irish dancers and musicians are found. And when it comes to entrepreneurship and investment, again Irish Americans are making key decisions which are benefiting the Irish economy. And of course, there would be no peace process at all if it weren’t for Irish America. So I stand therefore to applaud the pathfinders and pioneers of Irish America who have given so much back not just to the Irish of the USA but to Ireland itself.”
During my stay, I also got to drop into the offices of the St Louis Post-Dispatch, a newspaper founded by Joseph Pulitzer, to catch up with their head of internet Bob Rose and meet the hosts of the downtown St Patrick’s Parade and fun run which attracts 300,000 people. And big thanks to Joe Michaelrea, parade treasurer and organiser of a running tour of St Louis which I enjoyed on Sunday morning.
Throughout my brief stay in the US (I will be back at my desk in Belfast on Tuesday), I kept in touch with all the action at Féile an Phobail through the new belfastmediagroup.com emails and daily coverage. If you haven’t signed up for this daily bulletin, you can do so here.
And, finally, I was happy to welcome some friends of Ireland keen to travel over to Belfast to attend the Homecoming and Belfast One City Conference from 24-26 September, the red carpet will be rolled out though it’ll be hard to outdo the marvellous hospitality of the people of St Louis!