Why Do the Irish Have Virtually No Presence in Los Angeles?

St. Patrick's Day in L.A.
St. Patrick's Day in L.A.
Photo by Colin Young-Wolff

Starting at 6 a.m. Tuesday, Los Angeles will be Irish for a day. The rest of the year, not so much.

While Los Angeles has several Irish organizations like the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Brothers of St, Patrick, there is no Irish enclave similar to Chinatown, Koreatown or Mariachi Plaza, and nobody runs for office on the Irish platform. 

“We’re spread out all over the city,” says former Mayor Richard Riordan, one of the L.A.’s most prominent Irishmen and the son of first generation Irish immigrants. “But I think that’s a good thing.”

There are no grand St. Patrick’s Day parades, no widely attended Irish breakfasts of corned beef and cabbage and no newsworthy Irish pride political speeches here, as there are in New York, Boston and Chicago. In fact, anyone who has lived in New York or Chicago knows that the Irish are drowned out in a city whose key ethnic groups hail not from Western Europe but from from Hispanic and Asian nations and cultures.

According to the site IrishCentral.com, which displays a map of Irish population clusters that literally cuts off the West Coast, of the 34 million to 35 million Irish counted in the last U.S. Census, "Five out of 10 Irish Americans live by the sea. It must be the Irish Islander in them." But not by the Pacific Ocean. The site breaks it down like this: 

The most Irish urban area is the Boston metro area with 20% of those living there claiming Irish ancestors. Boston is followed by Middlesex County, MA, and Peabody, MA. Across the country the Irish American community makes up 5 percent of the population in most counties. In New England, New York state, New Jersey, and eastern Pennsylvania they represent 10 percent.

Here’s a list of the most Irish city areas:

1. Boston, MA - 20.4%
2. Middlesex County, MA - 16.9%
3. Peabody, MA - 15.8%
4. Albany, NY - 15.6%
5. Syracuse, NY - 15.0%
6. Worcester, MA - 14.8%
7. Camden, NJ - 14.8%
8. Philadelphia, PA - 14.2%
9. Long Island, NY - 13.1%
10. Wilmington, DE-MD-NJ - 13.0%

In fact, to understand the Los Angeles Irish community, or lack of it, you have to reach out to its only really visible leaders: Irish bartenders. Some of whom aren't even Irish.

A St. Patrick's Day parade in Los Angeles.EXPAND
A St. Patrick's Day parade in Los Angeles.

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Danny O’Reilly, an assistant manager at Jameson’s Irish Pub on Hollywood Boulevard, says there is a simple explanation for the lack of a centralized, or even identifiable, Irish community or power base in L.A.

“When they migrated, the first stop was the East Coast, mainly New York and Boston,” he says. “And when some of them started moving west, they mostly stopped in Chicago and laid down roots there.”

While O’Reilly loves his life in L.A., he does have one regret: “I really don’t meet many true Irish-Americans here,” he says. “I just wish there were more Irishmen in LA.”

If you really love Ireland, you'll make it permanent.
If you really love Ireland, you'll make it permanent.
Danny O'Reilly

Until that time, he’ll settle for all those who plan to be Irish for a Day, on St. Patrick's Day.

“St. Patrick’s Day is definitely not as big a deal here as in New York and Chicago, where there’s generation after generation of Irish,” he says. “There must be 300 Irish bars and pubs in Chicago, while there’s only a few dozen here in L.A. And there’s really only five or six major players here in the Irish bar world.”
Jordan Delp, general manager of Tom Bergin’s Public House on Fairfax, another Irish bar, described himself as “an honorary Irishman.”

He noted that L.A.'s approach to honoring Ireland each March has little to do with Ireland itself. “America has really created the holiday of St. Patrick’s Day," he said. "In Ireland they don’t go to the extremes we do here. It’s definitely an Americanized holiday.”

Delp says that while there is no central Irish community, there is at least one consolation: “There’s an Irish bar in every major neighborhood,” he says. “The Irish population is spread out for a reason.”

That lack of a Little Dublin or a Little Limerick doesn’t prevent Angelenos from celebrating St. Patrick’s Day like it’s 1921, the year the Irish Free State was declared.

“We’re going to open our doors at 6 in the morning,” says O’Reilly, at Jameson’s, which is a block east of Hollywood and Highland. “Last year we opened at 8 a.m. and there were people already waiting on line, so this year we’re going to open at six. We’re going to have a little person dressed as a leprechaun, green beer and a green shot special.”

Tom Bergin's Tavern
Tom Bergin's Tavern
Tom Bergin's Tavern

Jameson’s and dozens of other Irish-themed bars and pubs around L.A. will host tens of thousands of honorary Irishmen drinking their brains out in a 24-hour bacchanal.

O’Reilly, whose parents came over from the old country and settled in Brooklyn, N.Y., says he is not offended that most people associate the Irish with heavy drinking and think of St. Patrick’s Day in particular as an extended pub crawl.

“Well, that’s just how we’ve dealt with things over the centuries,” he says. “We Irish celebrate with booze when something goes right, and we commiserate with booze when something goes wrong.”

Riordan, always known for his sharp sense of humor, offered up several alcohol-related Irish jokes that he will be rolling out at Riordan’s Pub, next to his other DTLA restaurant, the Original Pantry, come Tuesday.

“Did you hear about the time two Irishmen walked out of a bar?” he asks with a chuckle. “It might have happened sometime, somewhere.”

Jameson’s Irish Pub
Jameson’s Irish Pub
Jameson’s Irish Pub

There was no rim shot, but it still got an appreciative laugh. So Riordan started spitting out Irish jokes like Jay Leno doing a stand-up routine.

“How do you tell the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral? There’s one less drunk!”

Then he revealed one he had wanted to save for Tuesday when he spends the day at Riordan’s Pub.

“Did you hear about the time Patrick Murphy got drowned in a vat of beer and Dick Riordan had to go tell the widow Murphy what happened? She said she hoped he didn’t suffer and I said 'I don’t think so because he came up to pee four times.'”

Why Do the Irish Have Virtually No Presence in Los Angeles?
Photo by Colin Young-Wolff

Riordan said it is perfectly acceptable for an Irish-American like himself to tell these kind of jokes, but that others – even those who are Irish for a day – should steer clear.

“We Irish have to stand up and not let anyone else say a bad word about us,” he says. “If they do, we’ll give them black eyes.”


Contact the writer via email at paulteetor@verizon.net and on Twitter:

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