Celebrating Irish American Heritage Month

The month of March is Irish American Heritage Month, which means a lot to my family and I, as well as our large Detroit Irish community. In fact, 9.2% of Americans claim Irish ancestry which translates to over 30 million Americans. I’m excited to share with you a little more about Irish history and my family, and why you may see your Irish neighbors showing their pride a bit more this month.

IrishIrish in America

Our history in this country goes as far back as the colonies, with the most impressive numbers arriving between 1820 and 1930. Ireland experienced a great famine from 1845-1852 which led the Irish to cross the Atlantic to Canada and the United States in search of a better future.

That is when my great, great grandfather came across and settled in Prince Edward Island, Canada, where he became a potato farmer. My grandfather was born in 1908 and left the island as a teenager to come to America, becoming a United States citizen.

My grandparents settled first in Corktown, which has a rich history of welcoming the Irish and the Irish-American community flourished. That welcoming spirit helped form organizations that connected new immigrants with people who shared their ancestry, like the Gaelic League of Detroit, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.

Irish in Detroit

This year marked the 64th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Detroit’s Corktown. Put on by The United Irish Societies, which is made up of the Irish Organizations of Southeast Michigan, the parade brings the Irish community together to celebrate annually. It is the devoted efforts of those who participate in these organizations that make celebrating our shared ancestry possible.

Growing up Irish, I was exposed to these organizations as a child. My uncle, Roger McCarville, was the leader of an Irish-American band, Wakes and Weddings, which played the traditional music of the Irish. I learned the words and sang along as his band played all over the metro area in pubs and at events put on by these organizations. Being involved in the Irish-American community is something that I learned from my uncle Roger and his wife, Doris.

Irish in my Family

Doris O’Hare-McCarville’s birth was an eventful one as she was born an unexpected twin sister to Nora and her immigrant parents, Nora (County Roscommon) and Ed (County Mayo) in March of 1941. The O’Hare family was blessed with six children total and settled on the east side of Detroit. Being immigrants, Doris’s parents had no family to help them raise their children.

As a result, they became active participants in the robust immigrant community in Detroit. These friendships became the fabric into which they wove the support that is required in raising a family, supported by organizations like the Friendly Sons on the east side. Doris’s mother and father took part in fundraising for the missions that they supported and she grew up part of this thriving Irish-American community. It was at an event at Bonnie Brook Country Club on the west side that she met my uncle Roger McCarville and they were married in July of 1961.

Early in their marriage they moved out of Michigan following a job opportunity for my uncle to Ohio, Massachusetts, and Virginia. They returned to Michigan in 1971 as a family of eight with children Maura, Margaret, Daniel, Roger, Nancy and Bridget. They settled in Ortonville where Roger’s sisters MaryAnn and Patty were raising their own families.

Irish as a Community

The friends that they had made in the Irish community welcomed them back into their ranks, raising families of their own. My uncle formed his band and played gigs all over the metro area. In 1975, he was in a tragic boating accident that resulted in the loss of one of his legs. Doris still remembers the kindness shown to them by the community during those dark months. To learn more about my uncle Roger McCarville, click here.

A large part of what makes the Irish such a strong community is their Roman Catholic faith. St. Patrick is one of the patron saints of Ireland and the celebration that takes place each year on March 17 begins with a Catholic mass.

Irish like Doris

Doris grew up saying the rosary at 7 p.m. every evening, following along on the radio. She attends mass on Sundays and holy days regularly, because it is a tradition she follows. Doris credits her faith to how she made it through the very difficult events that occurred when my uncle lost his leg and when he fought preleukemia.

Why am I writing about Doris O’Hare-McCarville? Because she is a mother who kept her Irish heritage alive while raising her children.

Doris volunteered countless hours to the clubs that preserve Irish heritage. She is a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians as well as the St. Brigid Degree Team. Her children and grandchildren continue to participate in the Irish American community.

Doris put her daughters in Irish dance and her daughters put their daughters in Irish dance. Her daughter Brigit McCarville was named Maid of Erin in 1985 and her granddaughter Abigail Howles made the Court for the Queen of the UIS (United Irish Societies) in 2019. She was named Queen of the Court of St. Brigid in 2020. Doris’ sons joined their father’s band and sang the songs sung by the Irish and Irish Americans in public houses all over the world.

Irish Eyes Smiled

I am not the only one who sees what she has done as exceptional. In 2012, Doris was named Woman of the Year by the Pallottine Fathers. In 2015, she was named Honorary Chair of the Motor City Irish Festival.

Her membership and participation in the Irish organizations over the years inspired me to participate. I competed in the Court of St. Brigid Scholarship Program in 2000 and 2001, as well as the Maid of Erin (Now Queen of the UIS) in 2002. I was named first-runner up in all three. My aunt Doris and uncle Roger made it to every one of my competitions.

My uncle died in 2009. Our family shook to its core. Doris, her six children, and six grandchildren honored the memory of Roger in the years after his death by hosting a fundraiser/party for the next decade, Wakes and Weddings The Next Generation. Proceeds from the event went to local Irish organizations.

Her life, her story, is worthy of sharing during Irish American Heritage Month this March. A wife, a mother, and a grandmother who never forgot that she was an Irish American.

To learn more about how the Irish in Detroit celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, click here


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