Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 15, 2013 at 10:32 p.m.
For Michael McCullaugh, born in Ireland, Sonoma County is not only home, but a vivid reminder of his native country.
“When I ride my bike out to the seashore this time of year, it's pretty much like Ireland,” he said. “It's all green.”
Emerging from their small emerald island, the Irish have roamed the world, so it's not surprising to find them in Sonoma County.
“There's always an Irish community wherever you go, so you always have a sense of family,” said Catherine Crotty of Rohnert Park, a native of Ballinasloe in County Galway.
It's hard to find precise numbers on Irish immigrants living in Sonoma County, but it is true that there are more than 63,000 people in the county who report Irish ancestry, according to the latest U.S. Census estimate.
“There's a large Irish community in Petaluma, and it's close-knit,” said Crotty, 55, who came to the U.S. with her family when she was 10, and now teaches English and beginning computer skills at the Petaluma Adult School.
And, of course, everyone is Irish on St. Partick's Day. Some Irish immigrants say the holiday is a much bigger event in the United States than it ever was in the old country.
“It was really just another day for us,” said McCullaugh, 52, who grew up Catholic, but surrounded by a Protestant majority, in County Armagh in Northern Ireland.
“I remember my first St. Patrick's Day in the states. It was in San Francisco. I went down to the parade and everything was green. There was even green beer, and corned beef and cabbage,” he said.
“That was really strange to me,” said McCullaugh, co-owner of the Aqus Cafe in Petaluma and the Redwood Cafe in Cotati.
“I'd never had corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day.”
John Crowley, 50, McCullaugh's partner at the Aqus Cafe, grew up on the outskirts of Dublin in Ireland, and remembers St. Patrick's Day as rather quiet.
“It always rained,” he said. “It was a holy day of obligation, which meant you had to go to church. All the shops were closed. Even the pubs were closed, but that has changed since then.”
For Jane Fitzpatrick Martin, 52, who grew up in the town of Sligo along the western coast of the Irish Republic, St. Patrick's Day was a much grander occasion.
“St. Patrick's Day is absolutely huge there,” said Martin, now an English and drama teacher at Sonoma Valley High School. “It's the equivalent of the Fourth of July here. It's a national holiday, so everyone's off work, and every single town has its own parade.”
Martin settled in Sonoma in 1993 with her husband, Reed Martin, an actor and writer with the Reduced Shakespeare Company, who grew up in Sonoma. Today, Jane is back in Sligo with her mother, on St. Patrick's Day, for the first time since she left.
“I'll be at the parade,” she promised earlier this week.
In America, as in Ireland, the pub is a good place to find some Irish folks, not for drinking as much as for socializing, Crotty said.
“The Irish Pub is a wonderful place for people,” she said. “As a child, I was in the pub. There wasn't a sense that it was a place a child couldn't go. If there was a holiday or a party, I'd be welcome.”
The pubs serve as cultural and social centers, too, said Jane Fitzpatrick Martin.
“Drama and poetry are such an integral part of Irish culture, and it really does start in the pubs,” she said. “When you go to the pubs, you'll find people reciting poetry, especially if they have a few jars in them.”
There's much more to Irish pub culture than whiskey by the jar, said Crowley, who patterned the Aqus Cafe partly after the pub his grandfather and father ran outside Dublin.
“There are parts of the Irish pub image that you don't want to deal with, like the overdrinking. I think that is actually a myth,” Crowley said.
“The Irish do like to have fun. They like the community aspect of it, so that's what they're doing in the pubs,” he added.
“The PTA would meet there. You celebrated the soccer kids winning their tournament on a Sunday afternoon.”
The Irish stereotype that rankles Crotty most is the image in old films of the ignorant, ragged, Irish peasant.
“While there is a large rural population in Ireland, the Irish are particularly well-read, and self-educated, if not formally educated,” she said.
She recalls a bus trip from Ballinasloe to Galway during a visit back home, riding with farmers and other locals, when someone mentioned a book title.
“I knew no one, but within 15 minutes, we were all discussing the book,” she said.
“It's a culture of words, both spoken and read. If you were in Ireland and went to a pub, you'd find yourself in a conversation within a very short time.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
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