If Portland’s St. Patrick’s Day parade seemed to sparkle a little bit greener this year, that could be because of some of the marchers.
At least three of those joining the parade ranks Sunday were authentic Irish natives. All three said their American-born wives were the reason they ended up in Maine and taking part in the annual celebratory cavalcade down Commercial Street.
The parade has been hosted by the Irish American Club of Maine since the club was founded in 1973. St. Patrick’s Day, which is officially observed on March 17, came a little bit early in Portland with many events taking place the weekend before. The club, which holds Irish cultural events and classes throughout the year, put on its annual corned beef St. Patrick’s dinner at the Maine Irish Heritage Center on Saturday .
“Portland’s celebration is similar to back home,” said James McClay of Standish, a social worker who moved to Maine from Donegal, Ireland, five years ago.
He and Derek McDonagh of Gorham, who moved from Galway, Ireland, to the United States eight years ago and now works in property management, were both marching with the Portland Division 1 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Larry Maher of Scarborough, a native of Kilkenny, Ireland, who moved to Maine 12 years ago, marched with the Portland Hurling Club.
St. Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in Ireland. But observances in Ireland, McDonagh said, are subdued compared to New York and Boston standards.
McClay, who is president of the Portland Hibernians, said the group is relevant today. It was founded in New York in 1836 to guard Catholic churches from anti-Catholic nationalist forces and help Irish immigrants.
McClay said Irish immigrants in 19th-century America were in a similar situation to Muslims facing Islamophobia in the U.S. today.
Maher, who works at an investment company, was marching with his daughter Ciara, 7, and his fellow hurling teammates.
Maher said anyone growing up in Ireland knows how to play the ancient Gaelic game, which involves a lot of running and hitting a ball, called a sliotar, with a stick, called a caman. Maher joined the club shortly after it was founded seven years by a group of American-born players.
“We are always recruiting,” Maher said.
He said he is teaching all three of his daughters how to play. He said Ciara is especially fond of Irish culture.
“She wants my accent,” he said.
Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: