Category Archives: Florida Irish Culture

Florida Panthers Irish Heritage Night

Keep the night of March 14, 2017 open on your calendar for Irish Heritage Night at the Florida Panthers:

March 14, 2017 - Irish Heritage Night at the Florida Panthers

March 14, 2017 – Irish Heritage Night at the Florida Panthers


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Irish American Christmas Traditions

Many of the customs that we now associate with a traditional American Christmas are neither traditionally American nor very old. Christmas celebrations were frowned upon in colonial America. In fact, the Puritans of New England considered Christmas celebrations to be pagan and idolatrous, a common view in New England that did not change until the late 19th century. It was not until after the Civil War, when the Irish gained political clout in America, that Christmas became widely celebrated and was made a federal holiday in 1870.

Some of the traditional American Christmas customs that originated in Ireland:

Candle in the window – The custom of placing a candle in the window on Christmas Eve began in Ireland during the time when Catholics were being persecuted by the English in order to denote a safe house for priests to perform a Christmas mass. The candle in the window symbolized a welcome to Mary and Joseph as they looked for shelter on Christmas Eve. In Ireland, the candle was traditionally lit by the youngest member of the household and extinguished only by a female named “Mary”.

Holly Wreath

Christmas wreath on the door – The Christmas custom of placing a holly wreath on the door also originated in Ireland. Holly plants flourished in Ireland around Christmas time, and provided the poor with an ample and colorful source of Christmas decorations. In Ireland, it was considered bad luck to take down the decorations before January 6th, known there as “Little Christmas Day”.

Milk and cookies for Santa Claus – The American custom of leaving a plate of milk and cookies for Santa Claus began in Ireland as the “Laden Table”. After the evening meal on Christmas Eve, the kitchen table was cleared and then set again with a lighted candle, a pitcher of milk and a loaf of sweet bread filled with raisins and caraway seeds. The door to the house was left unlocked, so that Mary and Joseph (or any other travelers in need) could enter and have something to eat. The association with Santa Claus is an American adaptation.

Door to door Christmas caroling – The custom of walking from door to door singing Christmas carols began in Ireland as the celebration of “Wren’s Day” on December 26th, also celebrated as St. Stephen’s Day.  There are several traditions in Ireland linking Jesus and the wren bird. Originally, the celebration involved people carrying either an effigy of a wren or an actual caged wren, travelling from house to house playing music, singing and dancing. These celebrants were called “wren boys” and “mummers”.

“Merry Christmas” – This traditional American Christmas greeting began in Gaelic Ireland as “Nollaig Shona Duit”, pronounced “null-ig hun-a dit”, which literally means “Happy Christmas”.

To help put you in the Irish spirit of Christmas, watch Moya Brennan’s “An Irish Christmas” video:

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Join “The Gathering”

Irish television production company Animo TV is producing a new six-part documentary series called The Gathering – Homeward Bound for RTÉ, Ireland’s national television network. As part of this series, they are filming six well-known Irish people who currently live abroad.

One of those being profiled is Irish comedian Brendan Grace (of the famous Liberties in Dublin), who has been living with his family in Florida since 1994. The production company will be filming Brendan Grace at Paddy Mac’s Irish pub in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on Sunday, September 23, 2012 at 4:00 PM. The producers would love to have a large crowd of Irish and Irish-Americans there for the filming. They are also interested in speaking with Irish or Irish-Americans living in Florida. Paddy Mac’s is located at 10971 North Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens. Directions can be found on the pub’s website.


The Gathering Ireland 2013

The Gathering Ireland 2013 initiative is a massive tourism campaign, inviting everyone with Irish connections to “come home” to Ireland next year. Over 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry. The campaign is being supported by Fáilte Ireland, the Irish tourist board, and Tourism Ireland. It promises to be Ireland’s biggest tourism initiative ever and reaches out to those who have moved away, their relatives, friends and descendants, and invites them home. Throughout 2013, there will be a series of events in Ireland to celebrate Irish history, traditions, families, culture, business and sport.

Here is a link to the official video about The Gathering Ireland 2013:

Here is a link to The Gathering Ireland 2013 website:

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Hurling in Florida

Hurling is the traditional sport of the Irish, dating back over 3000 years.  It is the world’s oldest continuously played sport. It is fast and physical, like the people who play it.

The Basic Rules of Hurling:


1. A game of hurling is played by two teams. Each team is comprised of up to 15 players.

2. The player breakdown is as follows:

1 Goalkeeper

6 Defensive Players

2 Mid-Field Players

6 Offensive Players

3. Players pair up with their opposite marks.

Game Play

1. A game or match usually consists of two halves of 25-35 minutes.

2. The sliotar (ball) cannot be picked up from the ground directly with the hand. The hurley must be used to roll, jab, lift or flick the sliothar into the hand.

3. The sliotar can be caught while in the air or bouncing along the ground.

4. The sliotar can be transferred to the hand at most twice. If the sliotar touches the ground, the count is reset.

5. The sliotar can be hit with the hurley on the ground or in the air.

6. The sliotar can also be kicked or hand passed, using one hand for the entire movement. The sliotar cannot be thrown.

7. The sliotar can be kept in the hand for at most 4 consecutive steps or the length of time to take 4 steps.

8. The sliotar can be balanced on the stick for an unlimited time.


1. Touching the sliotar directly with a hand while it is on the ground.

2. Overplaying the sliotar by catching it more than twice with the hand or running for more than four steps while in the hand.

3. Physically challenging a player while the sliotar is not present (off the ball challenge) or by playing in an aggressive and illegal manner.

4. A player may not grab or hold another player’s hurley.

Physical Contact

1. Hurling is a physical game and a certain amount of contact is permitted, provided it is in attempting to gain possession of the sliotar.

2. A fair shoulder charge is permitted.


1. A point is scored when the sliotar is hit over the crossbar, which is above the goal keeper, and between the goal posts.

2. A goal is scored when the sliothar is hit under the cross bar and into the goal between the goal posts. A goal is worth 3 points.

3. Goals and points can be scored from play or from ‘set pieces’ such as a free or a side line cut.


Florida now has an active hurling community. The Orlando Gaelic Athletic Association & Orlando Hurling Club are the principal organizers of hurling events in Florida.  According to Scott Graves, an Irish-American and founder of the Orlando Hurling Club:  “Lately, a few of us in our club are attempting to build bridges between different Irish groups in Central Florida.”

St. Patricks Day Match, Atlanta v Orlando, 2011

“Our primary mission is to spread hurling throughout Florida and we’re having some luck in Tallahassee, Tampa, and Port St. Lucie. Local organizers, who have played for Orlando in travel matches this year, have returned to their towns gathering 3 or more players each. They will gather next weekend at the Central Florida Highland Games to play our first exhibition match.”  

Contact Orlando Hurling Club:

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Where are the Irish in America?

The US Census Bureau recently released detailed population, demographic and ancestry estimates for the year 2010. According to the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey for 2010, there were only 124,457 persons born in Ireland living in the United States, but there were 37,926,777 US residents of Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry.

In 2010, the Irish were the fourth largest ethnic group in the United States, representing 12.26% of the total US population.

Persons of Irish ancestry reside in all 50 states, but the percentage of the population of Irish ancestry varies considerably from state to state. Massachusetts has the highest percentage, with nearly one-in-four residents having Irish ancestry, while Hawaii has the lowest percentage, with fewer than one-in-twenty residents having Irish ancestry. One-in-nine Florida residents have Irish or Scotch Irish ancestry.

 Not surprisingly, California, by far the most populous state, also has the largest number of persons of Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry (2,820,553). Ten states have over one million persons of Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry. Florida has the fifth largest population of Irish or Scotch-Irish ancestry (2,068,006).


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Florida Irish Pipers

Florida Irish Pipers is an association of uilleann pipers from all around Florida. They are part of the Southeast Piper’s Club, which is a unique community of individuals living in the southeastern United States, happy to share information, tunes, and friendship. Many are also members of the Irish Piper’s Club, based in Seattle, WA, and Na Piobairi Uilleann, based in Dublin, Ireland. “We host a tionól in Florida every other year, sharing the responsibility of the Southeast Tionól with our Georgia piper friends. A ‘tionól’ is a music workshop, which usually focuses on Uilleann Piping, though other instruments are often represented. In the past, our tionóls have included instruction in pipes, Irish fiddle, and sometimes flute, whistle, concertina, bodhran and guitar. Our tionóls take place on a weekend with group classes on Saturday and 1/2 Sunday led by pipers who are masters on the instrument. Sessions are held Friday night and Saturday after the Saturday evening Instructor’s concert. This weekend is ideal for pipers, fiddle players, concertina players and Irish traditional musicians looking for a good music and great craic!”

Florida Irish Pipers at the 2011 Tionól

The next Southeast Tionól will be held sometime in late March 2012 at Roswell, GA.  In addition to the annual tionóls, Florida’s uilleann pipers regularly perform a various venues around the state.

Florida Irish Pipers website and contact information:

Uilleann pipes give traditional Irish music its mournful, haunting quality and are distinguished from other forms of bagpipes by their tone and wide range of notes. They have a different harmonic structure, sounding sweeter and softer than other bagpipes. Not only do they have the ability to play two octaves, but they can play separate notes, lending variation and coloring to musical phrasing.

The bag of the uilleann pipes is inflated by means of a small bellows strapped around the waist and the right arm. Their name is part translation of the Irish language term “píobaí uilleann” which literally means “pipes of the elbow”, from their method of inflation. The bellows relieves the player from the need to blow into a bag to maintain pressure, and also allows relatively dry air to power the reeds, reducing the adverse effects of moisture on tuning and longevity. Uilleann pipers can converse or sing at the same time as playing. Unlike other bagpipes, uilleann pipes are most often played indoors, and are almost always played sitting down.

Mastering the uilleann pipes takes years of practice and dedication, and are one of the most difficult musical instruments to play well. Here is a short music video of Seamus Ennis, the world’s most famous piper, demonstrating his genius on the uilleann pipes:

If you want to purchase your own set of uilleann pipes, prices range from around $265 to over $10,000. According to Kathleen Cavanagh of the Florida Irish Pipers: a full set can cost up to $10,000 or more depending upon the maker. For instance, Rowsome sets or even Geoff Wooff sets can be $20,000. Since the instruments are hand-made for the most part, the price varies. Also, the waiting list of some makers can be quite long. It is best to talk to an experienced Uilleann Piper from the list of pipers on the FIP website for advice on buying a set BEFORE purchase. In addition, their site has one of the most comprehensive listings of Traditional Irish Music Sessions in Florida.

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An Irish passion for Asia

Stuart Rooney combines a passion for Asian culture and art with an old Irish family business name at his shop in downtown Lake Worth. He is the proprietor of John A. Rooney Imports, located at 508 Lake Avenue. The shop’s name is an homage to the family business founded by his great grandfather in Dublin in 1845, “John A. Rooney – Engraver & Die Caster”. The Rooneys have documented their family roots in Dublin back to 1014 AD at the famous Battle of Clontarf, where the Irish decisively defeated the Vikings and ended their control of Dublin. Stuart has been a resident of West Palm Beach for 21 years, and worked as a controller at The Breakers Hotel and then as senior loan officer for a mortgage company until he decided to open his own business. The soft-spoken Rooney, with white hair, crystal blue eyes and precise Anglo-Irish accent, greets visitors to his shop from a front counter surrounded by an exotic mix of Asian merchandise.   

John A. Rooney Imports specializes in hand-picked and hand-crafted imports from around the world. Our selection of hand-carved and hand-painted furniture from India delights the senses and adds exotic and unique appeal to the comforts of home. Our sumptuous fabrics add color, richness, and texture. Clothing is loose, flowing, and cool for ease of wear and comfort. Our jewelry includes silver, bead, and semi-precious stonework from India as well as beautiful beadwork from Central America. Our housewares department includes numerous accessories to complement your dining and living areas. All items are hand-picked by me, Stuart Rooney, on buying trips around the globe. We take great pride in bringing you one-of-a-kind items at reasonable prices.” says his website.

Stuart’s passion for Asian culture and art began as a small child. “I was an army brat”, says Stuart. His father was a soldier, and took his Dutch wife and family along to exotic postings in India, Nepal, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Brunei. Stuart’s father served for decades in the famed Brigade of Gurkhas of the British Army. A childhood spent among the vivid colors and sights of Asia inspired Stuart to open his Asian import shop. He travels to the East three times per year to purchase goods for the shop, primarily from India and Malaysia.


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Brogues Down Under in Lake Worth, FL

Brogues on Lake Avenue in downtown Lake Worth has a new Kiwi-Aussie sparkle to its old Irish charms. On June 28, Rod Regan, wife Emily and daughter Tania took over the venerable Brogues-On-The-Avenue pub and restaurant at 621 Lake Avenue and, after a thorough cleaning and refurbishment from top to bottom, have reopened and renamed the downtown landmark Brogues Down Under.  Rod is a native of Australia and New Zealand with a big Irish smile and Down Under charm.  Emily previously operated the Bees Knees thrift shop on Lake Avenue. Daughter Tania is Brogues new “task-master”.  The Regan family has lived here in South Florida for 21 years.

Rod spoke with me yesterday about the many improvements that he and his wife and daughter have made. The most important change is that Rod, Emily and Tania are on-site owner managers, personally greeting and serving customers. The most noticeable changes, in addition to the new name, are a sparkling clean appearance, new table cloths, an improved menu and 19 flat screen HD TVs. They hired a well-known and talented chef, Joseph Angelucci, winner of a 2010 People’s Choice Award. In addition to traditional Irish pub fare, Chef Angelucci prepares different nightly specials to please diners in the mood for international cuisine.

Entertainment is still a big part of Brogues appeal. In addition to the 19 large screen HD TVs for watching sporting events, from Tuesday through Saturday there is dinner music from 5:00 to 9:00 PM and live bands performing from 9:30 PM to 1:30 AM. For meetings, parties and special occasions, there is the large “Aussie Boomerang Bar” room, which can accommodate groups of 95 to 100 for table service, along with its own large bar.  The outside dining area under the awning on Lake Avenue is a great place to sit, have a leisurely drink, lunch or dinner and enjoy the lively downtown street scene.

Rod says “This is a service business!” And that’s what the new Brogues delivers – good service, good food and drinks and good times! Their website provides directions, menus, a calendar of eventsand contact information. View Brogues at

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Irish Santa’s Helper – Florida Irish Heritage Center Store

If you’re an Irish Santa, looking for Irish-themed gifts for all your Irish friends and family, the Florida Irish Heritage Center on-line store is the best place to begin your search:

Florida Irish Heritage Center Store

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Irish-American bigotry & racism

A recent 2-day train ride on AMTRAK from Florida to Boston gave me good cause to ponder the thorny issue of Irish-American racism and bigotry.

Bigotry and racism have been a blot on the reputation of Irish-Americans for centuries.  The scope and truth of this shameful problem may shock you.

I wrote an article about my too interesting train ride and this problem for my column on at:

Please read this article and pass it along – especially to senior citizens.

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