By Joe Leary
Special to the BIR
December is the month of giving. Whether it is to our families under the tree, a few coins in the Salvation Army basket, or the local homeless shelter, most of us are already planning our Christmas gift list.
This column is an attempt to persuade all of its readers to consider placing Ireland on their lists this year.
Irish Americans sending gifts to Ireland has been a tradition for over 200 years. I am told that for a time giving back to Ireland was so financially significant that American gifts were counted as part of Ireland’s gross national product.
It makes sense. The United States is a massive country, with enormous natural resources and an amazingly diverse people, while Ireland is very small, with hardly any natural resources that has been occupied by Britain for most of the last 500 years. Ireland struggles mightily whenever the world suffers a recession.
In fact, today, the population of Ireland both North and South is smaller than the 6.8 million who live in Massachusetts. There was a time in the 1800s when Ireland’s population was close to nine million.
The census offers a most-telling comparison of a single surname in the two countries: There are approximately 30,000 Murphys living in Ireland and more than ten times that number of people – 350,000 – with the name Murphy living in the United States.
For some reason, our Irish ancestors did not travel west after they arrived in Boston. We are fortunate to find ourselves living in a center of Irish-American culture.
There are so many local Irish activities that it is difficult to choose which to support. There are organizations that teach the Irish language, Irish dance, and Irish music. Irish sporting events led by the Gaelic Athletic Association are contested most every weekend. Local universities have dedicated Irish studies programs, Harvard, Boston College, Northeastern and Boston University among them.
The oldest Irish organization in the United States, The Charitable Irish, was organized here in 1737. The Erie Society was born in 1937. The Irish Pastoral Centre and the Irish International Immigration Center focus on helping young Irish immigrants.
The Ireland Fund and The Irish American Partnership fund programs in Ireland. The Irish Cultural Centre in Canton is an active center for Irish activities year round.
Down on Cape Cod in Yarmouth is the 1,600-member Sons of Erin organization. And a new arrival focused on both Boston and national networking is the Irish “In Boston” organization.
This is only a portion of the many local Irish organizations that celebrate our Irishness in our area. We even have two newspapers serving the Irish community here, The Boston Irish Reporter and the Irish Emigrant.
As Irish Americans living in the Boston area, we have much to be thankful for. We are no longer simply the latest class of immigrants. Americans of Irish ancestry have risen to the top of corporations, universities, and government, becoming leaders in every field of human activity.
I’m sure most of us are proud of our ancestry and want Ireland to do well in the years ahead. Supporting the Irish language, Irish dance, Irish music, Irish organizations – and Ireland itself – will greatly help that cause.