Whatever could County Kerry, and the Dingle Peninsula, ever have in common with Western Mass? Quite a lot!
Irish immigration to New England reached a peak in the mid-19th century, when the Irish potato famine of the 1840’s created widespread loss of life and terrible hardship for countless families. Seeking new opportunity, they left Ireland – and County Kerry and its rocky Dingle Peninsula in particular - in huge waves, landing in ports up and down the American eastern seaboard. Many stayed on the coast, but others pressed westward, looking for work and the chance to build a new life.
Thousands found what they were looking for in Western Mass. The burgeoning industrial development of canals, factories and paper mills at Hadley Falls, upriver from Springfield, offered plentiful jobs for the immigrants. By 1855, the Irish constituted a third of the approximately 5,000 inhabitants of the newly-renamed city of Holyoke. Initially facing many hurdles, they endured and found their way as new Americans, becoming part of the vigorous fabric of the region.
Today, Western Mass still honors and celebrate all things Irish. One of the largest and most-cherished St. Patrick’s Day parades in the United States is held each March in Holyoke, drawing more than 400,000 spectators into this important bastion of Irish-American life. The celebrations run over several days and keep the Parade Committee busy all year planning events such as the Colleen Pageant, 10k Road Race, Bishop’s Mass and J.F.K. Award Dinner. Holyoke even has its own tartan!
In West Springfield, Irish culture, particularly on the Dingle Peninsula, is celebrated during The Big E. Throughout the 17-day festival, also known as New England’s State Fair, Dingle merchants are on-hand to sell their wares and promote this magnificent destination.
And of course, what could be more telling than the fact that both Holyoke and Springfield have named Tralee (in County Kerry, of course) as formal Sister Cities? The connections and history run deep.
In West Springfield, the Irish Cultural Center of Western New England is the year-round epicenter for those who love Ireland! The “ICC” is first and foremost a social organization, and it also presents Irish music, offers trips to the Auld Sod and so forth. The Irish Cultural Center builds on this foundation and offers Irish language classes from beginner to advanced levels and a special summer camp for kids.
Westfield has its own Sons of Erin. The Sons of Erin is a non-profit organization dedicated to the community and promoting Irish heritage. The Sons help a variety of groups and charities through service and contributions.
With direct service between Hartford/Springfield’s airport (Bradley International Airport) and Dublin/Kerry on Aer Lingus, it’s never been easier to travel between these ‘sister’ regions.
Ireland and Western Mass. Each appreciates the other fondly, and the richness of the latter owes a great deal to the resiliency of the former.
For more information on visiting the Western Mass region visit https://explorewesternmass.com/