Springing Irish: America’s Most “Irish” Small Towns

From New York and Boston to Philadelphia and Chicago to Los Angeles, Irish culture made an indelible impact on American life. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and big city parades will abound while Irish pubs throughout the United States keep spirits up year-round. However, anybody — Irish or otherwise — can explore how Irish ways of life are woven into America’s fabric in smaller towns and cities.

Syracuse, New York

While Syracuse is one of America’s fabled college towns, the Central New York municipality also celebrates its Irish ties at other times of the year. Some of the permanent sites include upside-down traffic lights (topped with green as opposed to the usual red) on the city’s perennially buzzy Tipperary Hill and Finger Lakes landscapes that can pass for Ireland when spring arrives.

The 2019 edition of Syracuse’s St. Patrick’s Parade (March 16) is built on the theme of “Syracuse. Irish. Family,” inspired by the Irish “Claddagh” ring, symbolizing love, loyalty and friendship.

If the family schedule doesn’t allow for a March visit, the Syracuse Irish Festival Sept. 6–7 brings the St. Patty’s spirit to the end of summer.

AC Hotel Dublin, Vaso

AC Hotel Dublin, Vaso © AC Hotel Columbus Dublin

Dublin, Ohio

The tagline of this Columbus suburb is, “Irish is an Attitude,” and Dubliners from Ireland will probably feel right at home in its city center, filled with artsy boutiques, eclectic restaurants, galleries, pubs and sweet shops. The city tourism office even offers its own whimsical fairy trail map, seeking out hidden fairy doors in different businesses throughout town (in keeping with similar springtime traditions in Ireland). The AC Hotel Columbus Dublin, combining urbane New York City-inspired surroundings and excellent amenities for families, is across the street from Pins Mechanical Co., a trendy game hall with duck pin bowling, foosball, shuffleboard and a row of pinball machines. Naturally, this Dublin will have St. Patty’s festivities, the Greenest & Grandest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, on March 16.

Lackawanna St. Patrick's Day Float

Lackawanna St. Patrick’s Day Float © Lackawanna County

Lackawanna County/Scranton, Pennsylvania

From founding father William Penn forward, the Pennsylvania Irish shaped America for more than three centuries, and the imprint extends beyond Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The city of Scranton hosts the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the nation, with more than 12,000 participants and 100,000-plus spectators. Bagpipers, Irish step dancers, high school bands, nearby Irish groups and floats are just a small part of the festivities. The parade is preceded by a Parade Day mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Brian Kelly Memorial race.

Lackawanna St. Patrick's Day

Lackawanna St. Patrick’s Day © Lackawanna County

Hot Springs, Arkansas

In the early 19th century, many first-wave immigrants headed for the region, which evoked the verdant landscapes of their homeland. The Irish Potato Blight of 1845 brought more Irish to the state. A third wave of Irish immigrants arrived during the 1980s, responding to a demand for nursing and medical professions in many Arkansas hospitals during a major staffing shortage. Many of those arrivals stayed, bringing a boost to the area’s Irish culture. This is celebrated with the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, devised in 2003 by several locals of Irish ancestry looking for a new way to put the 98-foot Bridge Street to clever use. Beyond St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas hosts several events each month open to the public and include activities such as trivia nights, Irish sessions and open mic nights.

Butte, Montana

Thousands descend on Butte for its St. Patrick’s Day parade, which brings an American West twist to the celebration, complete with corned beef and cabbage, Irish step dancers, bagpipers and the annual Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner. Festivities start at noon in Uptown Butte, departing from Mercury Street and Colorado (just west of the Mai Wah Museum and Uptown Pork Chop John’s and about a block north of Emma Park).