Massachusetts’ Real Irish Bragging Rights

It looks like Boston might have some competition when it comes to the most authentic place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

While it’s difficult to dispute Beantown’s popularity as a favorite destination for travelers in search of a loud and proud place to celebrate, new Census data shows that it might not be as Irish as we all thought.

Or should we say, just not as Irish as some other towns in the Greater Boston area.

Every year, the City of Boston rolls out the green carpet, welcoming visitors young and old alike to partake in an impressive lineup of shamrock-themed events, including its historic St. Patrick’s Day parade. First recorded in 1737 and held every year since, the parade regularly takes the prize for the best St. Patrick’s Day parade in the country.

But does Boston get top St. Patrick’s Day billing because of its large percentage of Irish Americans, or simply because it’s a metropolitan city that knows how to party? Turns out, it’s a little bit of both.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, more than 17 percent of Boston residents self-identify as Irish (which actually puts the city below the Massachusetts’ overall state rate of nearly 24 percent).

But there is one cluster of small towns that has Boston beat when it comes to its Irish-American cred.

Some locals call it “the Shore,” others refer to it as “the Irish Riviera,” evoking a sense of Old-World charm and opulence; but regardless of its moniker, locals agree that the Bay State’s South Shore is about as authentically Irish as it comes in the U.S. The people who live there aren’t shy about showing off their Irish root, and with good reason — six of the ten most Irish towns in the nation are located there.

The town of Scituate sits at the top of that list, with almost half (47.5 percent) of their residents identifying as Irish.

Zachary Mahoney grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and remembers the time he spent in Scituate fondly. “People there are really nice; it’s just a hard working little town. But wherever you go you can tell they are extremely proud of their root,” he said. “We used to play their basketball team in high school and it seemed like the whole town came out.”

Scituate takes St. Patrick’s Day so seriously that its shamrock celebration stretches on for more than two weeks. The festivities include the Mad Hatter’s Ball and the St. Pat’s Day Plunge, where Scituate residents take a dip in the icy Atlantic. There’s even a U2 tribute band concert. But the piece de resistance comes in the form of a 2.3-mile parade that wends its way through downtown.

So how does Scituate compare to Boston on St. Patrick’s Day?

“It was a totally different experience,” Mahoney said. “They have a big parade and you can tell that everyone was really into the holiday and celebrating their heritage, rather than just drinking a lot. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of that there too.”

St. Patrick’s Day and Irish Heritage in the U.S. By the Numbers

  • More than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades are held across the U.S., with New York City and Boston hosting the largest celebrations.
  • The world’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York City on March 17, 1762, and featured Irish soldiers serving in the English military.
  • In 1995, Congress proclaimed March as Irish-American Heritage Month. The U.S. President issues a proclamation each year.
  • There are four towns in the U.S. that feature Shamrock, the floral emblem of Ireland, in their names (Mount Gay-Shamrock, WV; Shamrock, TX; Shamrock Lakes, IN; and Shamrock, OK). There are 16 places in the U.S. that bear the name of Ireland’s capital, Dublin.
  • Approximately 35 million U.S. residents claimed Irish ancestry in 2010 — that’s more than seven times the population of Ireland — making it the nation’s second most frequently reported ancestry behind only German.
  • Almost a quarter (24 percent) of Massachusetts residents reported Irish ancestry in 2008. This compares with a rate of 12 percent for the U.S. as a whole.
  • Corned beef and cabbage is a traditional St. Patrick’s Day dish (though many claim that it’s an Americanized version). In 2010, about 26 billion pounds of beef and 2.3 billion pounds of cabbage were produced in the U.S.

Cover Photo: Albert Cardoso/My Shot