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Irish culture thrives in Syracuse, says local Irishman

Katie Alexander

Syracuse, N.Y. —Patrick D. Aherns is known in the Syracuse community as “a true son of Ireland.” As Grand Marshall of the 2004 St. Patrick’s Day parade, a news report claimed that if you scratched his skin, shamrocks would fly out.

Aherns says Irish cultural is flourishing in Syracuse now more than ever.

“When I was a kid, I’d drive around and I couldn’t find an Irish flag in the neighborhood. I couldn’t find any Irish things,” Aherns said.

He says the growth in the number of Irish dance schools illustrates the change in the attitudes of the Irish people in Syracuse. When his daughters were growing up, there was only one dance school in the area. Now, however, there are nine Irish dance academies to choose from.

“The community always knew it was Irish, but they didn’t know what that meant,” Aherns said. “The local community now, the Irish American community, is getting more involved, sort of knows their history more.”

“And it’s a sad history,” Aherns said. “But their grandparents—the immigrants, they didn’t talk about Ireland because it was so painful. So their families were raised without the Irish culture, basically without the history and things like that”

Aherns said that is not the case in his family. He recalled a story his grandmother told him about how her 15-year-old sister was killed by members of the British military force sent into Ireland to suppress revolutionaries as she was riding her bicycle down the road.

“That kind of bitterness and that kind of hatred doesn’t go away,” Aherns said. “That’s the way a lot of us were raised, with that kind of memory, so we [did] what we could for that situation in Ireland.

Aherns says he’s been involved in these organizations to aid the Irish republicans and to foster Irish culture in America for most of his life.

Among the numerous organizations for which he has held positions, Aherns was an officer in the Irish American Cultural Institute, chairman of the Knights of the Red Branch, and president of the Syracuse chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians for four years.

“I was raised in the Ancient Order of Hibernians hall,” Aherns said. “They had dances every Saturday night and all the immigrants would come there and find out about America.”

But, Aherns says because there are far fewer Irish immigrants coming into the area than in the past, Irish culture in Syracuse has changed.

“There’s no Hibernian hall anymore, you know,” Aherns said. “Those days are gone. The younger generations don’t have to go to a certain place to find a job from other immigrants. They don’t have to go to another place to find friends, and socialize, and dance, and things like that.”

Aherns is confident that although the reason for Irish cultural pride has changed, the renewed pride and involvement in the culture is not going anywhere.

“You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube anymore,” Aherns said. “I think it’s only going to grow and grow and grow.”

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