Local Irish-Americans look to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in traditional manner

“Amateur Day.”

That’s what Allen Byrne calls St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that some would expect the Irish-born Frederick resident to observe with green beer and plastic shamrocks.

But Byrne shook his head at the idea of “celebrating” the saint’s day; instead, he plans to support his native country in today’s England versus Ireland rugby game on TV.

While Byrne is cheering at a downtown bar, Tommy Grunwell will spend the day celebrating family and religion — the true meaning of St. Patrick’s Day, he said.

Grunwell, vice president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians — the American fraternal organization of Irish descendants — said the holiday has become an American phenomenon.

“In Ireland, it is a day of church and family, without corned beef and cabbage,” he said.

Grunwell, AOH member Byrne and organization president Francis Kevin Murphy take their ethnicity more seriously than just wearing green one day of the year.

The AOH focuses mainly on cultural and charity work, Murphy said; the local chapter has garnered about 30 members, with more on the way. The group has supported the Frederick Rescue Mission and other local nonprofits with financial and labor contributions.

On a national level, some AOH chapters participate in St. Patrick’s Day parades, but most do not throw an annual holiday bash, Murphy said.

“Individually, we might have some beers, if we even have a drink at all,” Murphy said.

The bar scene is not intrinsic to the AOH, or being Irish, he said.

The U.S. version of the holiday is rooted in 1770s New York, he said, where Irish immigrants would congregate and celebrate their heritage.

“Other ethnic groups would love to have what is essentially a national holiday,” Byrne said of the Irish tradition Americans have adopted.

Byrne, whose Irish brogue still accents his speech even after more than 30 years living in the U.S., wants to dispel the myths of leprechauns and lucky clovers.

Ireland’s shamrock symbol means more than luck to the natives.

Each of the three leafs is said to illustrate the Trinity’s Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

After 32 years in Frederick, Byrne has not lost his love of Ireland.

“I suddenly realized being Irish is great,” he said. “Americans love the Irish.”


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