The Golden Generation: A Living Legacy
It’s natural to reflect on the past and the contributions of those who came before us, particularly when attending memorial events and funerals. The “golden generation’ of Irish immigrants that arrived in America in the post-World War II era played a significant role in shaping this country, and their legacy lives on through their families and communities. Many from this generation are now being lost with the passage of time. The names of the deceased UICC members in the annual memorial mass booklet is now a who’s who of local community stalwarts and avid UICC supporters during the past 50 years.
Listening to eulogies and reading obituaries – it’s truly inspiring to hear about the sacrifices and hard work of these immigrants. Many of these immigrants came to the United States “without a jacket for a gooseberry” seeking a better life and opportunities for themselves and their families.
They faced challenges and hardships, but they also worked hard and contributed to the growth and prosperity of the country. They established businesses, built communities, and raised families. It’s important to remember and honor the sacrifices and contributions of this generation of immigrants, as they paved the way for future generations to thrive in America. By reflecting on their experiences, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the struggles and triumphs of the immigrant experience and the enduring values that continue to shape our society.
Typically the stories of early immigrant struggle and eventual success are never heard unless you attend a funeral of a loved one or listen carefully to the eulogy of someone recently deceased. For many of the UICC members that have passed on to their eternal reward the Irish Center building is part of the living legacy they have left behind. They dreamt up the idea of a Center, built it, paid for it, and sustained it over the past five decades. Now it’s the turn of their kids and grandkids to carry the flag forward.
Many Irish emigrants that arrived in America from the middle of the 20th Century onwards did so by chain migration. Usually someone here in the States sent the money home to Ireland for the passage of the next sibling, cousin, nephew or niece. Upon arrival, many of the men and women were indentured workers so to speak who had to work to pay off the advance of the cost to come to America.
I know of one man that arrived to work as a rancher in southern Oregon in the early 1950’s. Within days of his arrival he lost his index finger in a tractor moving accident in a field of thistles. He spent the next few days recovering in a local hospital – when his boss arrived to see how he was doing……the poor lad said – “I’m doing ok I suppose”, and his boss quickly answered “Get well soon you owe me $100!”. Welcome to America!
Another man arrived in Toledo, Ohio, in 1962 with a young family with the aid of a local Catholic priest. The curate managed to get the man a job locally as a farm laborer. His first day on the job was his last. He was asked by the boss man to weed between the tomato stalks and budding lettuce heads in the tilled beds. Never letting on that he didn’t know the difference between dock leaves, dandelions, tomatoes or lettuce was a recipe for disaster. When the boss returned at the end of the day to review his day’s work, he observed that the new man in town not only pulled the weeds – but had pulled all the tomato stalks and lettuce heads as well! In his defense the young man said that the weeds all looked the same to him! He fared better in his next job manufacturing bullets for a US Army contractor and he was soon on the road to success.
And that’s how things went for many people – early setbacks proved educational to most emigrants – who couldn’t return home in a hurry. You had to wise up fast. There were bills to be paid, families to raise and a future in America to build towards.
Leaving a Legacy
The legacy of these Irish immigrants can be seen all around us, from the many Irish businesses, the built environment, and pubs that dot the landscape of our cities, to the vibrant Irish cultural scene that continues to thrive in our own Center here in San Francisco. The story of these Irish immigrants is a story of hope and perseverance, a reminder that anything is possible if we have the courage to dream and the determination to make those dreams a reality. Their legacy is felt in the thriving Irish community in the Bay Area, and in the success of their children and grandchildren who have gone on to achieve great things in their own lives.
Many of them have followed in their parents’ footsteps by valuing education and hard work, and using these tools to build successful lives for themselves and their families. Some have become business leaders, doctors, lawyers, educators, and politicians, while others have pursued careers in the arts, music, and sports. Their success is a testament to the hard work and perseverance of their parents and grandparents, who instilled in them a strong work ethic and a commitment to their community.
The legacy of the “golden generation” of Irish immigrants is a powerful reminder of the strength and resilience of the human spirit, and a source of inspiration for us all. Their story is a reminder that with determination and perseverance, anything is possible. Are we ready to develop a legacy of our own and contribute towards a new Irish Center?
Neosfaidh an aimsir! (Time will Tell!)
Leo Walsh Scholarship Awards
On Sunday May 7th at 3pm the Leo T Walsh scholarship will disburse awards to graduating high school seniors going off to college and eighth grade students moving onto high school in the fall. Many thanks to all those who contributed funds to the scholarship program.
Humours of Bandon
This award-winning production written by and starring former Irish Dance Champion Margaret Mc Auliffe is a coming-of-age story, full of heart, humour and wisdom, for anyone who had a childhood passion that threatened to overwhelm their life. This will be the first love play at the Center in many years. Please come out and support live theatre on May 12 at 7pm.
Liam Reidy, President