Philadelphia to Ireland: A Cultural Journey

by TheSpot

My recent visit to Ireland gave me the opportunity to understand history and how the sacrifices and journeys of anyone leaving their home countries to seek a better life in North America.  How do these experiences influence the tapestry of Greater Philadelphia?  It seems there are many.

This was not always the case.  The most notable event in Ireland’s history is the famine of the mid 1800s.  This led to the Irish Diaspora.  Millions had to leave for the Americas and parts of the West Indies due to starvation and poverty.  A large majority have settled in the east coast of the United States.  

Upon my visit in Ireland, we visited the cities of Dublin, Killarney, and Galway.  The cities and countryside demonstrate unique characteristics.  Dublin, cosmopolitan and commercial, mixing high tech and retaining its cultural identity.  Dublin is a commercial and diverse European city.  Ireland offers a 12.5% corporate tax incentive which consequently attracts major corporations to plant their European headquarters in Ireland.  Companies such as Citi, Hub Spot, and Apple have taken advantage of this tax incentive.  Also, many major pharmaceutical companies have made Ireland their headquarters for all of Europe.

The Guinness factory stands prominently in the Liberties section of Dublin.  Ireland’s other most famous export, the Jameson Distillery can be found on the famous Bow Street.  It is an amazing concept to imagine that these two establishments produce every bottle in every bar and pub around the world. If ever visiting, I highly recommend a visit just to view the process of how these products are made. 

The Killarney and Limerick sections are storybook panoramas.  The Blarney Castle and Bunratty Castle are scenic with panoramic views. The Blarney Castle housing the famous Blarney Stone. There is only one way up and if you make the trek, you are rewarded with an incredible view. Bunratty Castle in County Clare, is situated in a storybook village. Thatched roofs, houses painted in bright colors, and quaint shops dot along the road. The landscapes feature plentiful sheep and cows grazing.  Part of those landscapes include world class golf resorts.  Oftentimes, you may only see golfers in windbreakers and shorts carrying golf clubs in any weather.  Ireland is one of the world’s top producers of natural sheep wool. We were lucky enough to view a sheering however production has declined in recent years due to synthetic material elsewhere.

Naturally, Philadelphia is home to many immigrants of all races and creeds.  What connections and influences do Ireland and Philadelphia share?  We learned of a prominent Philadelphia builder by the name of John McShain, Jr.  McShain, whose father had emigrated from County Derry, was a carpenter by trade.  John Jr. during the 1930’s was able to procure federal building contracts.  Projects such as the Roosevelt Library, Jefferson Memorial, Pentagon, and rebuilding of the White House set an impressive record for the McShain family and earned him respect and admiration from many dignitaries.  In later years, the McShain’s traveled to Killarney, Ireland and were enamored with the peaceful atmosphere.  They decided to make their home permanent in Killarney and today is known as the Killarney House.  Their estate is part of Killarney National Park.  If you happen to visit County Kerry and Killarney Park, you can enjoy the beauty of the land or visit Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware to learn about the contributions of their business in the United States.  

Here in Philadelphia, we can appreciate the Irish Memorial in Penn’s Landing which pays homage to the millions of immigrants in search of freedom and prosperity.  If you’re looking for authentic Irish imports, there are a few stores that offer fine apparel, wool, and crafts.  The Philly Irish Shop, Tulleycross Fine Irish Handcrafts, and a Touch of Ireland are all in the Philadelphia region.  As for other famous imports, the many pubs in Greater Philadelphia continue to serve the finest liquors and hold the strong traditions of their ancestors.  Pubs have been and continue to be the centerpiece of our greatest celebrations in Philadelphia history.