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Irish Ancestry, Music, and Culture Appreciated at St. Patrick’s Day Celebration

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St Patrick’s Day occurred on March 17th this year, but it was officially kicked off for many on March 11th, when Bay Path held a virtual St Patrick’s Event Celebration. The evening was full of history, comradeship, and music. Abbots Cross, a Celtic band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was the main attraction.

The celebration started off with President Doran’s opening remarks. She thanked the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration committee for putting the night together. She remarked, “we embrace inclusivity fiercely”, a statement that rang true throughout the night. It wasn’t just a celebration, though there was plenty of laughs, dancing, and well wishes. It was also an opportunity to learn about St Patrick Day's history, Irish immigration, and a chance to be exposed to the ballad-like tunes that are Celtic music. Students and members of the planning committee, Khyarah Gaston-Feliciano and Ajanay Hill, walked us through a brief history of Irish immigration in the Massachusetts cities Holyoke and Springfield. The infamous Potato Famine of 1845 led the Irish to flee to America. Upon landing in Massachusetts, they had to take low-paying jobs and live in slums in East Boston. The American population was not welcoming; the Irish immigrants were stereotyped as violent and drunks. Over the next few decades, Irish immigrants moved to Western MA and created substantial communities in Springfield and Holyoke. Catholic churches were crucial in bringing the Irish together. St Jerome’s Church in Springfield in particular became a haven and brought about Irish pride. In 1952, the first annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in Holyoke. It hadn't skipped a year until COVID-19 hit. The absence of the parade has been felt deeply in the Western Massachusetts Irish community, which was all the more reason that Bay Path’s event was a joyous and welcomed occasion.

Dr. Sweeney next took over to share some reflections on St. Patrick, who was alive around 400 A.D. He was born in Britain but was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave. St. Patrick is credited for bringing Christianity to Ireland, thus being one of their patron saints. Dr. Sweeney noted that St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated more joyfully and intensely in America and other countries than it is in Ireland itself. Irish citizens view it as a day of church and respite from the Lenten Season, but Irish American fervor has brought about more celebration in the recent decades.

With the history of St. Patrick’s Day and immigration in mind, the band Abbots Cross began to play. Alan Booth is the vocalist and guitarist, while Mike Clancy played the flute. Their playful banter lends credence to the fact that they have known each other for 20 years. Songs such as “The Star of the County Down”, an instrumental version of “Danny Boy”, and “Back Home in Derry” led the event to its next section, where a slideshow played depicting what it meant to various Bay Path community members to be Irish. Audience members were then encouraged to also share in the comment section what it meant to them to be Irish, to be compiled into a word bubble by Cora Swan.

Abbots Cross resumed their concert, with the songs “Where the Streets Have no Name”, “Pastures a Plenty”, and “Black Velvet Band”. The music, alternatively soulful and reflective, and upbeat and joyous, was a hit with the audience. People were swaying in their Zoom boxes, singing along, and smiling. The last song of the night, “Rattlin’ Bog”, had the biggest reaction, with people dancing and connecting through the screens. While Bay Path’s St. Patrick’s Day could not be celebrated together, the evening brought a sense of unity and optimism in celebrating ancestry, family, music, and culture-- as conveyed by the word bubble.

This article is also featured in the April 2021 issue of the Network News Student Magazine.