The Irish American Experience
Updated: Aug 23
As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, it reminds Irish and those of us who are friends of Irish that this day in March is a time to celebrate and commemorate traditions that make this a unique American experience. Yes, even though St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Ireland, there are far more parades, parties and Guinness consumed in the U.S.!
In order to gain a perspective and knowledge in what it means to be of Irish heritage in America, I went to a descendant of Irish immigrants, Bill Haggerty, a long time Rotarian in Ridgewood, NJ. Bill and his family have been long time members of this community in Bergen County and Bill’s firm The Haggerty Group has been in business for 40 years.
Bill’s family name is a derivative of the Gaelic name O’Hegarty and, according to Bill, was changed upon entry into America. The “O” pre-fix means to be a descendant of that particular clan.
Bill’s ancestors left Ireland during the devastating famine in the period between 1845-1849. During that time, more than a million people in Ireland died of starvation. So, the decision of five O’Hegarty brothers and cousins to leave for America was literally a matter of life and death.
But even leaving had its risks. Many passengers on the Trans Atlantic exodus to America got sick and died of disease. The O’Hegarty’s were fortunate to survive the famine and the ensuing journey to America.
Once the O’Hegartys arrived (and were renamed the Haggertys), they settled in The Ironbound section of Newark which along with Manhattan and Brooklyn had major settlements of Irish immigrants. In addition, the five point’s area of Manhattan which is featured in the Martin Scorsese movie "Gangs of New York” was a very rough and tumble area known for various degrees of violence and lawlessness.
Although many Irish immigrants had just escaped famine and other dangers, a large number of Irish including the O’Hegarty men volunteered to fight in the American Civil War. As many as 200,000 Irish immigrants fought in the American Civil War. According to Bill, two of his ancestors fought for the Union Army. In subsequent generations, two O’Hegarty descendants fought for the United States as an infantryman and a pilot in WW II.
Bill Haggerty’s formative years were spent in New Jersey as his branch of the O’Hegarty’s lived in Jersey City, Carlstadt, North Arlington, and Woodridge. Bill raised his family in Ridgewood all of whom now reside in Northern New Jersey. Bill’s daughter Kelly even joined the family business and is now Chief Operating Officer of The Haggerty Group.
There is so much more to this rich past and story. But, as Bill said, in spite of all of the political and religious turmoil in Ireland over the years, most Irish Immigrants to the United States think of themselves as Americans first along with a pride and admiration for their ancestors who fought so hard to get here and become citizens.
The Haggerty Group is a full services accounting and tax consulting firm with its main offices at 79 Chestnut Street, Ridgewood, NJ 07450.