Historian Stephen J. White, Sr. discusses his experience as an Irish-American in Charleston, and his work in dispelling myths about the Irish in the South. His family emigrated from various areas in Ireland, with family from County Kilkenny, County Mayo, County Clare, and County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Most of them came over in the mid-1800’s. He is one of ten children from a very religious Irish-Catholic family. He has been tracing the history of the Irish in Charleston, beginning with Captain Florence O’Sullivan’s landing in 1670, and has taught courses and written on the contributions of the Irish to Charleston’s rich history. The focus of his research and writing is that the experience of the Irish in northern cities is a rather stereotypical one, and that there is a significant Irish presence in the American South, with experiences that are often vastly different from those who emigrated to northern cities. Stephen is a member of numerous Irish organizations in Charleston, including the Irish Historical Society of South Carolina and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and is dedicated to educating others about the important role that the Irish have played in Charleston’s history.
Ron Plunkett discusses his experience as an Irish-American in the South. His Irish family background is largely derived from County Meath, County Louth, and County Dublin, and the first ancestor of his to come to the States was Captain Peter Plunkett, who arrived in Virginia around 1690. Ron was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. His background is Welsh, German, and French Huguenot, as well as Irish. Ron was raised in the Episcopal Church. Of anti-Irish or anti-Catholic sentiment, he states that he feels such discrimination or prejudice wasn’t a part of his experience in Atlanta, and that religious or ethnic background didn’t seem to be as big of a deal as it might have been in other places. He also discusses his time in the service during the Korean War. He first visited Ireland in the seventies on business and returned several times through his job with Sealand/Maersk Line, speaking of his experience as a visitor in the best of terms. He is a member of the Hibernian Society of Charleston and the St. David’s Society, a Welsh organization. To him, being of Irish descent in America is about celebrating one’s heritage and knowing one’s history, to share pride in the contributions of one’s ancestors.
"Gianni Leonardi, Daniel ""Danny"" McCann, and Adam Tracey speak about their experiences as Irish immigrants in the United States. Gianni and Danny are the owners of two Irish pubs in the Charleston area while Adam works at a pub on Johns Island. Gianni hails from the rural, Irish-speaking parish of Gweedore, in County Donegal. He first came to the United States in 2009 as part of a sponsorship by a pub in Michigan through his university in Ireland. He wanted to come to the U.S. for the opportunity to make a living in the hospitality industry and relocated to Charleston from Ann Arbor to open an Irish pub. He speaks of the vast difference between his rural upbringing and his life in a more suburban/urban environment. He makes a point to discuss the authenticity of Irish hospitality, and how, in owning and operating a pub, he tries to further that sense of genuine Irish warmth. Danny is from Lurgan, County Armagh. He came to the U.S. in 1998, to Detroit, to work in the same pub that later sponsored Gianni. Having grown up in Northern Ireland, he has the most firsthand experience of the Irish Troubles. He speaks briefly about Irish politics and witnessing some of the violence in the North in the 1990s. Adam comes from County Offlay, outside of Tullamore. Before working in hospitality, he had worked in construction in Yonkers, New York. Though he has little firsthand experience with the Troubles, he tells the story of a grand-uncle who was killed young by a bombing in the North. All three speak to their experience within the small community of Irish immigrants in Charleston, and how the community works to bring newly-arrived Irish immigrants together with those who are already established in Charleston. They agree that without the support of the Irish community, their experience in Charleston would have been very different."
Dennis "Denny" O’Brien discusses his upbringing as part of an Irish-American family. His maternal grandfather came over during the Famine and settled in Tennessee. His paternal grandfather came over from a small town outside of Cork in 1912, to Omaha, Nebraska, where he practiced law. His father was an Army officer, so he spent much of his childhood overseas, including Japan, where he attended high school. He eventually settled in Charleston after marrying a woman who’s family has been here for generation. He’s been a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernia and belongs to a number of Catholic organizations. He discusses stories passed on to him by his father, particularly about political events in Ireland, and how the events framed a lot of the anti-British sentiment among the Irish, including members of his family. His family identified primarily as American Irish, rather than Irish-American, and that their Catholic identity was prioritized above their Irish background. The Catholic Church played an important role in his upbringing, and Catholicism is something he has tried to pass on to his children as much as possible. For him, his family is, first and foremost, American with Irish heritage. While he states that the Irish presence is stronger and “more militant” in northern cities such as Boston, he argues that there is a significant Irish culture and community in Charleston.
Bar owner Tommy Snee discusses his experiences as an Irish immigrant in Charleston. He is the youngest of ten children and describes his upbringing in a poor family as a happy one despite the hardships of poverty. He first came to the United States at the age of seventeen in 1980, to stay with an aunt and uncle in St. Augustine, Florida for a holiday. He returned home for a period of time before returning to the States in 1986 and gaining his green card. He gained U.S. citizenship in 2017. He attended a Christian Brothers School in Ireland, and left school at the age of fourteen to work in construction. Feeling that there was “nowhere to go in Ireland,” he came to the States, where he found the opportunity to work hard and make a life immensely appealing. The weather, the diversity, and the local culture drew him to Charleston from New York. He finds that the response to him as an immigrant has been nothing but positive. While he loves his life in the States, he states that, first and foremost, “I’ll always be an Irishman.” On Irish stereotypes, he disagrees with many of the simplistic stereotypes, but argues that the best way for Irish immigrants to dispel these kinds of false notions is through education. He also discusses the importance of honoring diverse backgrounds and experiences, and the importance of listening to and learning from those with different perspectives, which he feels is critical for America, or for any country, to becoming as great as it can be.
Eimer Kernan discusses her experience as an Irish immigrant. She is the youngest of five siblings from Dublin, and first came to the States in the late seventies on a J1 visa, then later came to live here full-time with her American husband. She has worked as a clinician, researcher, teacher, and consultant for thirty years. She comments on the difference in diversity between Ireland and the States, stating that Ireland is very homogenous, especially when compared to the States, and discusses how she “dials” herself back into Irish culture whenever she returns to Ireland. On religion, she remarks that she found the Catholic church restricting from an early age, so she feels that Catholicism, and religion in general, is not a part of her identity, though it did play a role in her upbringing in Ireland. She speaks specifically to her experience as a woman with a career, and of the difficulties that women face in trying to balance work and family. Above all, she maintains her identity as “Irish-Irish,” and considers herself “a bicoastal dual citizen.”
Paul Flaherty, a former Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps, discusses his upbringing as part of an Irish-American family in Boston and in Charleston. The paternal side of his family came from Galway in the early 1900’s and settled in Boston. The lore states that his family goes back to the twelfth century in Ireland. His father, Anthony, was in the Navy, while his mother, Mary, was a homemaker. He is the oldest of five children. He shares fond memories of growing up and being immersed in Irish culture at his grandparents’ house in South Boston, surrounded by a houseful of Irish immigrants and constantly hearing stories about Ireland. Most of the immigrants he came into contact with during childhood had emigrated to the States for work. He briefly discusses the importance of identifying as Americans first, specifically in how his grandparents spoke Gaelic but didn’t pass it on to the next generations, and of the importance of ensuring that the next generation of Irish-Americans are as well-educated as they can be. He also discusses the prevalence of Irish gangs in Boston. One of his main assertions is that, from his perspective, the Irish culture and Irish heritage is severely lacking in Charleston, especially when compared to the culture he was surrounded by in childhood in Boston.
Barbara Dugan discusses her upbringing as part of an Irish-American family in New York City. Her grandparents emigrated from County Mayo and County Kerry around 1900. Her grandmother, Catherine, took care of janitorial duties in her apartment building while her grandfather, Patrick, became employed in steel works and helped to build several New York City area bridges. As a child, she had difficulty getting her grandmother to speak in detail about Ireland, which she suspects is because of the hardships the family endured before their move to the United States. Barbara grew up going to all-girls Catholic schools and was raised Catholic. She speaks glowingly of her travels in Ireland and discusses the various ways in which she passes a sense of Irish-American identity onto her children and grandchildren. Barbara recently relocated to Charleston to be close to her married son and grandchildren, who live in Mt. Pleasant.
Michael Duffy (b. 1943) discusses his upbringing as part of an Irish-American family in Charleston. His paternal grandfather, William J. Duffy, emigrated from County Donegal, and the family settled in the coal region of Pennsylvania. His mother’s side of the family came over from Clonmel, County Tipperary, through New Orleans and settled in Charleston. Michael travelled to Annagry, in a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region on the West coast of Ireland, on a search for more information about the Duffys, and stumbled upon a pub where he was able to get more information about the Duffys from that region. He has pieced together much of his family’s background since but is still searching for more information. He has travelled numerous times to Ireland and has built numerous friendships through his travels. In his discussion of growing up as an Irish-Catholic in Charleston, he recalls some of the anti-Catholic sentiments he encountered in childhood, specifically the vivid memories of his childhood friend’s mothers asking him peculiar questions about the Pope. He acknowledges that the Catholic church, and the various duties and services associated with it, played a central role in his upbringing. He speaks about the current Irish community in Charleston, and how the Hibernian Society is taking steps to promote Irish culture in the city, whether by bringing Irish music in, or through commemorative or educational events such as the building of the Irish Memorial on Charlotte Street. Michael is immensely proud of his Irish-American background, and of the contributions the Irish-American immigrants have made in the States.
Darragh Doran (b. 1977) discusses his experience as an Irish immigrant in Charleston. He grew up in Chapelizod, a small village in Dublin, and first came to the States in 1997 on a J1 visa. His first experience in the U.S. was in Newport, Rhode Island, and, then in 1999, he made his way to Charleston, wanting to experience what he saw as the charm of the South, and wanting to better experience American culture. His first job in Charleston was with Bosch, who initially offered him a three-month internship, but at that time he didn’t expect to stay in the States. The sense of community, he states, is much stronger in Ireland, and he currently feels conflicted about whether he wants to return to Ireland or stay here as he gets older. He does state that the Irish are very warmly received here in the States, which he appreciates. Darragh is a realtor in town and runs CharlestonIrish.com and its associated Facebook page, dedicated to helping Irish immigrants in Charleston through business and personal networking. The ultimate goal of the Charleston Irish website is to help build up a well-connected community of Irish immigrants and their businesses in Charleston and the surrounding area.