As you can tell from my name, Moira McGarvey, I've got a little bit of Irish in me. With St. Patrick's Day approaching, it got me thinking about what this holiday and what St. Patrick's Day means to my Irish American family.
For those of you who aren't Irish or of Irish descent, St. Patrick's Day may just represent a day where people go out for a good time, possibly drink too much and paint shamrocks on their faces. But for my family and for many whose families originally hailed from Ireland, there's a little more to it. For many of us it represents hope, spirit and the achievement of the american dream.
My grandfather, James McGarvey, was born in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland in the late 1800s. He was a tall, strapping, handsome man who came alone, with no money, to the U.S. and made his own way. He arrived in New York by ship, then eventually signed on with the U.S. Army and in 1916 was on horseback chasing Pancho Villa on the Texas/Mexican border. They never did catch Señor Villa, but during that time my grandfather came to know and admire his company chaplain, also of Irish descent, Father Francis X. Duffy. (Father Duffy later became a national hero in World War I, known for his selflessness and bravery in the trenches of France. It was documented that Father Duffy would jump from foxhole to foxhole as bombs exploded all around him, offering comfort and last rites to dying soldiers.)
Much has been written about Father Duffy and there was even a popular 1940 movie starring James Cagney and Pat O'Brien portraying Father Duffy, called "The Fighting 69th" that told his story. When Father Duffy returned from France, he was honored with a parade in New York City. In fact, the large square just north of 42nd St. (where you buy your TKTS discount Broadway tickets today) is named Duffy Square in his honor.
When World War I was looming and the U.S. was preparing to send their first troops over to Europe., the Irish, known for being extremely adept and ferocious fighters, were targeted by the U.S. government as prime recruits. (I guess they thought if they sent those crazy fighting Irish over there the war would be over in a few weeks.) The creation of the 69th Infantry regiment, more popularly known as the "The Fighting 69th" or "The Fighting Irish," were actively recruited in Irish-American neighborhoods. Only the biggest, strongest, baddest men made it into the ranks. It's funny to think of my grandfather as a fierce fighter, when I knew him he was quite old and as gentle a man as you could ever know. But young James McGarvey, from County Tyrone, did join the Fighting Irish and was one of the first troops to land on the shores of France. Father Duffy was once again the chaplain of my grandfather's unit.
My Irish grandfather was wounded twice in battle in France, hospitalized, recovered, went back into action and then was gassed by the Germans. Many died from that mustard gas attack but thankfully for his heirs, Jim made it home in one piece and received a Purple Heart. (He suffered a lifelong tremor in his arm from his wounds and eventually died in his 70s from a particular form of leukemia that was linked to the mustard gas.)
After coming home, James did what many Irish soldiers did, he became a New York City police officer. Around this time, a young girl named Mary Agnes Coyle, who also came across the Atlantic alone at age 16 had arrived in New York City from Northern Ireland. James and Mary met through friends and were married by none other than Father Francis Duffy. That was always a source of great pride to my grandfather.
Neither my grandfather nor my grandmother had any blood relatives in the U.S. and the Irish community and customs in New York City became their family and touchstones of home. St. Patrick's Day for the McGarvey's was a day to remember and celebrate their heritage, culture, food, and music. It was a day to remember what they had all gone through to find a better life in America. That message was passed down to their children, Catherine, Margaret, and the baby of the family, my father, Charlie. When I was growing up, St. Patrick's Day was more about celebration and pride in our family and heritage than simply a party. It reminded us of how brave our grandparents were to come alone to a new country to make a better life.
On our retirement planning website, GangsAway!, we provide information and ideas about where to live when you retire. Because St. Patrick's Day has such strong meaning for me, I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of those towns and cities that have some of the best and brightest St. Patrick's Day festivities. If you enjoy St. Patrick's Day every year, perhaps you will want to retire in a town that does it right.
Using our data to filter great retirement locations along with St. Patrick's Day festivities, we created a short list of towns and cities that are both popular retirement destinations and know how get their green on in a big way every March.
New York: Massive St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Delray Beach FL: Has the largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the state of Florida.
Montauk NY: Charming small town St. Paddy's Day parade done with gusto and good surfing too.
Savannah GA: One of the largest celebrations on the east coast, done southern style.
Wilmington NC: Fund raising, parades, evening cruises and a 5K & 10K race for St. Patrick's Day.
Raleigh, NC: They have a parade and Irish Heritage Contest.
Boston: Parades, Irish history, street performers, dancing and loads of real Irish Americans.
San Antonio, TX: They dye the San Antonio River green!
Sedona, AZ: Live entertainment, family activities and a Beer Garden.
Seattle, WA: Parades, drill teams, dancers, bands.
Phoenix, AZ: Irish Faire, step dancing, bagpipes and food drive.
Bath, ME: Parade of ships and other festivities.
Chicago, IL: They actually dye the river green!
And to all of you Irish and non-Irish out there, Happy St. Patrick's Day!