A Tip Of The Hat To Ya. (moladh mór)
Growing up in Kensington in the 1950’s I always identified with being Irish. I mean, I think just about everyone did to some degree. Kensington was, early in Philadelphia history, an Irish community, an Irish Catholic community to be exact. That meant that the immigrants of the 1840s brought with them certain traditions and beliefs that traveled through history to everyone living in Kensington, whether they were full, part, or had no Irish blood.
For instance, the reason there were so many factories is that the Irish were a tremendously hardworking and cheap to employ labor source. Most of the immigrants that showed up in Kensington were farmers who left Ireland during the Great Potato Famine. They were used to hard work, and that translated to their factory jobs.
Because the factory owners sought the low paid workers in Kensington, they wanted to be sure they lived close to work, so they fostered the building of two and three-story brick row homes. The same ones you lived in if you grew up in Kensington. The growth of factories and inexpensive row homes begot the corner bars, candy stores, and small grocery stores where we all shopped. And the Irish needed places to worship, so they built the Catholic churches and schools that many who read this may have attended.
It wasn’t easy for the early Irish, because they had to fight anti-catholic and anti-immigrant sentimentality coming from previous British immigrants. And yes, it really did happen. I researched it for my Novel The Potato Thief and there is evidence of wide-scale prejudice and violence against Irish Catholics.
But the Irish were not to be deterred and today over 16% of the people living in the State of Pennsylvania identify as having Irish ancestry (11% in Philly). I am one with about 15% of my DNA being Irish. Had some great Irish grandparent of mine from long ago not hazarded the trip across the ocean and endured the strife of prejudice, I wouldn’t be here. So I am thankful to them.
That’s why on March 17th, St Patrick's Day, I will pour a bit of Jameson on the ground to show my appreciation for my ancestor, allowing me to grow up in one of the best possible places; Kensington Philadelphia.
Originally posted on The Kensington Neighborhood Alumni Group on Facebook.