St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner. It’s time to don the color green, sip Guinness and spend the day with loved ones. In honor of the Holy City’s generations of Irish culture, here are some fun options to celebrate the revered holiday and a shallow dive into the city’s Irish history.
“Back in the 1800s, St. Patrick’s Day was a big thing in Charleston. And it’s coming back,” said Joseph Kelly, professor and director of Irish and Irish American Studies at the College of Charleston.
“Thousands congregate on King Street [each year] to see Charleston’s parade, always on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. “For the Irish American community, it’s really big.”
Charleston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year starts at 10 a.m. March 17 at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on St. Phillip Street downtown and snakes down King Street to Broad Street, where it ends at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
“[There’s] music in all the Irish pubs — we have an embarrassment of riches in Irish pubs and local musicians playing Irish music,” Kelly added. “There’s a ton of stuff going on, if you look for it.”
Charleston’s Irish park, more
Another way to get in the spirit of the holiday is to visit the Charlotte Street Park Irish Memorial and soak in the splendor of the city’s harbor view. The memorial, completed in 2013, features a $2.4 million 30-by-24 foot carved granite map of Ireland. It’s the result of a collaborative effort between the City of Charleston, the South Carolina Irish Historical Society, the South Carolina Ancient Order of Hibernians and others.
“There’s a real rich Irish American community in Charleston,” said Prohibition restaurant co-owner James Walsh, who is from a town near Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. He moved to Charleston about 10 years ago.
“When I first moved here, the Ancient Order of Hibernians pushed to get the map of Ireland down on Charlotte Street,” Walsh told the Charleston City Paper. “It’s a huge map. … It was 20-something years in the making. It’s a real tribute to the contribution the Irish made in Charleston.”
Walsh said he opened Prohibition with his business partners “as a nod to some of the Irish history in Charleston.” It features one of the largest Irish whiskey selections in the area and boasts authentic Irish coffee and cocktails made with Irish products. Over the years, Prohibition has been involved in hosting Irish nights every couple of months with other Irish bars in Charleston with Irish music and dancing — “almost like a mini St. Patrick’s Day celebration,” he said.
Recently Walsh partnered up with a couple of Irish friends to begin working on open Hazel and Apple, which is “probably going to be the most authentic Irish bar,” he said. “It’s in the works now. That’s coming this year.”
Get in touch with Irish roots
“There’s so much Irish culture in Charleston it’s crazy,” said Darragh Doran, a downtown real estate agent who moved here from Dublin, Ireland, in 1999. He founded the Charleston Irish group in 2010 that supports local Irish residents and businesses. Its Facebook page has about 2,100 members.
The group regularly meets to host social events with live music from its own Charleston Irish band at different Irish pubs around town or meets to watch soccer and rugby on TV. The group hosts informal soccer matches on Thursday and participates in Charleston Hurling Club. Hurling is an Irish team sport played with a wooden stick (hurley) and a small ball (sliotar). One of Charleston Irish’s members, Cáit D’Mello, operates the Uibh Fhaili Academy of Irish Dance. There is also the Legacy Irish Dance Academy of South Carolina with locations in Mount Pleasant, Summerville and Hanahan.
“We’ve made huge developments,” Doran said. “Our biggest achievement is we’re a support group for those newly arrived [to Charleston], so they’re not arriving in the South not knowing anybody. Pretty much once a week I’m getting an email now from some Irish family moving down, generally from the bigger cities in the Northeast. … We’ve got a built-in network [and] we help them straightaway find housing or find jobs.”
A brief Irish history of Charleston
“St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in Charleston for close to 300 years,” said Nic Butler, who’s a historian of Irish descent at Charleston County Public Library and the host for the past six years of the podcast Charleston Time Machine.
Butler said St. Patrick’s Day across the United States is usually a celebration of Irish culture and drinking and having a good time — but that often overlooks the subtleties of Irish history such as the rift between Catholic versus Protestant in former British colonies.
“Last July, I did a podcast about a tar and feathering incident in Charleston in 1775,” Butler told the City Paper. “The first and only reported incident at the beginning of the American Revolution of people being tarred and feathered and embarrassed and run off [involved] two Irishmen … because they were trying to express Catholic rights and Catholic civil liberties and the Protestant Charleston community made them shut up.”
A post-American Revolution testament to how mainstream Irish people became is the story of James Hoban, the architect of the White House, who came from Ireland to Charleston and started his career here, Butler said. There’s also the story of Florence O’Sullivan, for whom Sullivan’s Island is named, who was working for private company managing property granted by King Charles II. Visit ccpl.org to hear O’Sullivan’s story.
By the time you get to the early 20th century, there are still Irish immigrants coming into this country, and there’s still prejudice against them, but it’s diminishing with every generation, Butler said.
“So, you get families like John F. Kennedy’s family who were rising politically and economically here in Charleston, [and former mayor] Joe Riley’s family,” he said. “Joe Riley’s grandfather was an Irish pipe fitter, a gas plumber basically. But, within two or three generations, they are very much connected to the political and economic elite.”
Kelly added a bit of background to Riley’s tale with a story he said may be apocryphal.
“The first Irish Catholic mayor of Charleston was the amazing Mayor Grace, John P. Grace, who represented the little guy in the face of those South of Broad oligarchs, who were led by the Stoney family. Well, he won a highly contested race back in 1911. … Grace lost [reelection] in 1915, and during the electoral shenanigans, a reporter was shot dead. Then, after the World War ended, Grace was elected again in 1919. His most monumental accomplishment was the bridge over the Cooper River — not the one there now, but the old one.
“Well, the second Irish Catholic mayor was Joseph P. Riley, and the story goes round that on his first day in office the bureaucrats delivered a letter to his desk. It was from Grace and addressed to the next Irish Catholic mayor. When Riley opened it up, there were three words there: ‘Get the Stoneys.’ ”
Park Circle’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration on March 10:
Photos by Ashley Stanol.
Get in touch with the Holy City’s Irish culture
Here is a condensed list of celebrations and pubs to patronize this year.
St. Patrick’s Day festivities
Charleston St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Downtown Charleston. 10 a.m. March 17 after an 8 a.m. mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at Radcliffe and St. Philip streets. The parade begins at 10 a.m. at the church and continues down King and Broad streets, ending at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The parade will include marching bands, fiddlers, dancers and Charleston’s Irish step dancers and more. After the parade at 11:30 a.m., Charleston City Hall will raise an Irish flag, and everyone can enjoy St. Patrick day specials at various downtown restaurants. Learn more at visit-historic-charleston.com.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations at Tommy Condon’s
Downtown Charleston. March 16-18
Join the St. Paddy’s Day Eve countdown party March 16 with a free Irish whiskey toast at midnight. Don’t miss the main event March 17. Dress in your best green attire for shenanigans, drinks, Irish food and live music starting at noon featuring Kevin Church, Kyle Herring and The Bograts. The party continues March 18 with live music all day starting at noon plus more Irish food and drinks.
St. Patrick’s Day Tap Takeover and Pet Adoption at Bohemian Bull
James Island 12 p.m. March 18
Grab your loved ones and come out for a good cause. Live music from Dan’s Tramp Stamp, beer from Stone Brewing and the chance to adopt a furry friend from Pet Helpers Adoption Center and Spay/Neuter Clinic on James Island.
A short list of Irish pubs
• Bumpa’s, downtown, 5 Cumberland St.
• Mac’s Place, downtown, 215 East Bay St.
• Madra Ruta Irish Pub, North Charleston,
1034 East Montague Ave.
• Ireland’s Own / Jagerhouse Pub, West Ashley,
3025 Ashley Town Center Drive
• O’Brion’s Pub & Grille, James Island, 520 Folly Road
• Seanachai Whiskey & Cocktail Bar, John’s Island,
3157B Maybank Hwy.
Learn about Irish history
Visit Charleston Time Machine podcast at ccpl.org/charleston-time-machine to browse podcasts on Irish topics, including the latest installment about Florence O’Sullivan published March 10.
Irish social events
Visit the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians at aohcharleston.com to view the calendar of events.
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