“Everyone’s a Little Bit Irish…”

The saying goes that “Everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Paddy’s day.”  In my case it’s even a little bit true. I can claim a wee bit of Irish heritage several generations back. My great-great Irish grandfather had a daughter who married a Greek, who had a daughter who married a Greek, who had a son who married a Pittsburgher of Polish descent, who had a daughter – me. 

Maybe beyond the excuse to wear, drink and eat green things, this is a day in which people of various backgrounds can join together to help forget about a long cold winter and the hope to hurry spring along, or maybe it goes further – becoming a celebration of some sort of shared cultural heritage in order to feel like part of the group, even if it isn’t ancestrally one’s own.

Pittsburgh is an amazing city that sets a fine example of the American melting pot.  At the turn of the previous century, a huge wave of immigrants came to this country looking for a better opportunity than they had in the old one.  This immigrant wave helped to create some of the long standing Pittsburgh neighborhoods of Germans, Italians, Polish and Irish. They joined in the Pittsburghers already settled here claiming ancestry from these and other European and Middle Eastern countries, as well as those of African descent.

Another remarkable thing about Pittsburgh is that we don’t have to wait until the weekend surrounding the 17th of March every year, or for Kennywood to open its arms to the various ethnic and cultural groups during their summer celebrations, in order to appreciate our city’s diversity. There is a multitude of opportunities and experiences here in the city that are available to us year round, where we can savor those cultural groups who have helped to shape past, present and future Yinzers.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers a wide variety of reference and research opportunities through its website.  Along with the vast knowledge of our learned librarians and the expansive collection of materials within our many departments and locations, the Library provides access to information for anyone interested in this city’s vast ethnic heritage. And we are fortunate to have neighbors in the city of Pittsburgh that are able to supplement that experience. Visits to the Nationality Rooms in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, or the Heinz History Center are musts for any resident or visitor to this city to help further understand and appreciate the many ingredients within Pittsburgh’s own melting pot.

The immigrant wave of the early 1900’s allowed for my  Irish, Greek and Polish grandparents to experience the multitude of opportunities for their growing families in this new world. This new millennium has made way for a new wave of immigrants of Asian, Middle-Eastern and Hispanic nationalities to add their talents and cultural uniqueness to this ever changing and growing mix. Today we celebrate our collective Irish heritage. Tomorrow, why not visit this city’s resources and discover one or more of the many other cultures that make up your own, and Pittsburgh’s, rich and diverse heritage.

-Maria J.


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5 responses to ““Everyone’s a Little Bit Irish…”

  1. Very interesting article, thank you. Here in Dublin, Americans of Irish decent often are perceived as individuals who are looking for some kind of identity in the context of a widely multicultural country such as the US… Nobody really considers them to be Irish, they’re just Americans. It’s as if an Australian had never ever been to America, but had American roots, kept claiming that he is American, which he isn’t at all. That is also my personal point of view. My mom and our entire family actually come from Angola. They were born there and spent most of their lives there, just like our ancestors did for about 500 years. This doesn’t mean that I am Angolan at all. I would never use the words “I am” to describe my ties to the country. It just means that my family was, and that through their story telling and personal experience I got a tiny grasp of what life in Angola was like. I understand the need to attach yourself to a History and a country, although I would never think that I am from that country -unless I actually did have some kind of personal experience with it, which I assume you’ve felt you had through the celebrations that happen in Pittsburgh. Different cultural perspectives, just fascinating. Hope you’re enjoying the craic today!

    • Alexandra – thank you for your reply. It’s great to get that perspective on this topic. It seems so very American to want to trace back to our roots, and I’ve often wondered whether this happens with immigrants in other countries. Thanks so much for your view! – MJ

  2. Don’t forget the substantial Jewish community in Squirrel Hill. :)

    • Oh – absolutely not, JMVarnerBooks! If you click on the “neighborhood” link I included, Squirrel Hill and many of the other communities I neglected to mention in this post are there. So many wonderful ethnic and cultural contributions to Pittsburgh, including the Jewish community concentrated in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. – MJ

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