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Celebrating the Irish in the Lowcountry

It’s March in the South Carolina Lowcountry and things are getting green. Not just the grass and those early budding trees either! Green beer, green shirts proudly proclaiming: “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”, shamrocks decorating anything that will hold still and leprechauns on pretty much every corner. St Patrick’s Day is almost here and that means two of the best parades of the year – The 35th Annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Hilton Head Island (March 11th) and the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade (March 17th). And the best part? You can attend both. Held on separate weekends, these fun-filled events will make you proud to be Irish, even if it is only for a day. Celebrate on March 11th at 3:00 p.m. on Hilton Head Island and you’ll have plenty of time to recover for the celebration in Savannah on March 17th at 10:15 a.m.

 

If the Hilton Head Island Parade sounds impressive at 35th years, it has nothing on the Savannah event, known as one of the largest in the nation. The public observance of St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah traces its roots back to 1824 – 194 years ago – but really those roots go deeper. The very first baby born in Savannah – Georgia Close – was born on St. Patrick’s Day - March 17 - in 1733. The earliest Irish in Georgia were descendants of the Calvinist Scots who “planted” Ireland’s northern province of Ulster in the 1600s and who came to Georgia from South Carolina.

 

Charleston, South Carolina also boasts a deep Scots-Irish heritage with most historians tracing the first Irish arrival in Charleston to three ships sailing from Barbados in 1670. One of these immigrants was Captain Florence O’Sullivan for whom Sullivan’s Island is named. Irish immigration flowed through Charleston in three waves: 1670 to 1750s were mostly Protestant, Anglican Irish. From 1750 to 1820 saw the Scots-Irish Presbyterians (the Ulster Irish) and lastly from the 1820s to 1900s brought the poverty-stricken Catholic Irish, many seeking to escape the famine in Ireland.

 

How Irish is the Lowcountry? In his essay “The Irish Influence in Early Atlanta,” historian John Harrison explains that “at least one-third, perhaps more, of our Southern people are of Irish lineage.” Many Lowcountry residents of Irish descent can trace their roots to County Wexford, a rural area in southern Ireland that was one of those hit hardest by the Potato Famine of 1845. With the possible exception of New Orleans, a major Southern seaport perhaps no region of the American South has been impacted as greatly by the Irish as the Lowcountry.

 

So, whether you’re Irish for a day, or your Celtic roots run deep into the past, you’ll find reasons to celebrate the Irish in the Lowcountry this month.

 

Sources:

Savannah St Patrick’s Day Parade Committee

The Post and Courier

Moon.com – Irish History in Savannah

Bluffton.com – History of the Irish in the Lowcountry

 

 

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