Irish music and dance was big in Philadelphia long before Sinead O'Connor shaved her head and became a priest or Michael Flatleystepdanced his way to numerous lawsuits. Keep your eyes open for the historical proof of my assertions.
The photos in this slide show are in three categories -- first, a trip to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to dig into the collection from the now defunct Balch Institute for Ethic Studies. After walking around the lovely building designed by Quaker architect Addison Hutton, which was built in 1902, I settled into the Robin Hiteshaw collection, and found old flyers from Irish-American dances, benefits and applications to benevolent societies. Great fun could be had for 15 cents at one time in Philadelphia's Irish-American community!
Next, I walked down Juniper to Drury, where my brother Steve joined me at McGillin's Olde Ale House, which was founded by two Irish immigrants in 1860, and is now in a countdown to its 150th anniversary. Though Steve spent many a happy hour at McGillin's in the past, he didn't know that it is an ancestral watering hole of the Allen clan, having been frequented by our late grandfather. Sláinte, Steve!
Finally, a friend joined me to vist The Irish Memorial, located at Front and Chesnut Streets on Penn's Landing, in view of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. This memorial by Glenna Goodacre commemorates the Irish Potato Famine, which began in 1840, and lasted through 1846. It caused the deaths of one million Irish citizens, and created a massive migration to America. The memorial features 35 individual bronze statues that depict the hopelessness and desperation of life in Ireland during the Famine; the ordeal of the ocean voyage to Philadelphia and other American ports; and the hopeful arrival on the shores of the Delaware River.
Someone I met at McGillin's told me Sinead and the Lord of the Dance himself modeled for the Memorial.
When we were young, my father, who was the son of Irish immigrants, regaled my siblings and me with harrowing tales of growing up poor in Philadelphia -- in Germantown -- during the Great Depression. For quite some time, I thought he wore rags to school and ate his morning corn flakes submerged in water instead of milk. I discovered later that he was just a good storyteller, given to Gaelic hyperbole (also known as blarney.) At the start of our own 'Great Recession,' I found myself wondering how his family and their neighbors -- who were mostly Irish, but not all -- weathered and survived the Depression. This blog chronicles my journey back to understand that time and those people, as well as the Irish who arrived in Philadelphia long before them. Please join me -- two shorten the road!