There was much wearin’ of the green last Friday at City Hall when Mayor Gavin Newsom and his Office of Protocol declared Irish Heritage Week in San Francisco with the raising of the Republic of Ireland’s tricolor flag.
The reception celebrated all things Irish -- from the SF Gaelic Athletic Association’s new hurling field on Treasure Island and the 25th anniversary of the SF-Cork Sister City relationship as well as the 158th St. Patrick’s Day Parade which kicks-off Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
“Gaelic football is the greatest sport in the world,” declared John O’Flynn, an SFGAA board member instrumental in raising private funds for the field, who will serve as the parade’s Grand Marshall. “And yes, we hid it from you all these years!”
Among the dignitaries gathered for the festivities: Irish Consul General Jerry Staunton, State Senator Mark Leno, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Bevan Dufty, David Chiu and SF-Cork Sister City Committee members and community leaders John Moylan and Diarmuid Philpot.
“The history of the Irish in America is intertwined with the history of San Francisco,” said Protocol Chief Charlotte Mailliard Shultz.
Those hardy immigrants included newspaper publishers (Sam Brannan) bankers (James Phelan), Comstock Silver kings (James Flood), engineers (Jasper O’Farrell, Michael O’Shaughnessy) and, of course, politicians (Frank McCoppin, the first Irish-born mayor).
Shultz made note that our current mayor is a direct descendent of Edward Newsom who served as Lord Mayor of Cork in 1822.
Ret. SFPD Commander Diarmuid Philpot, Mayor Gavin Newsom and Protocol Chief Charlotte Mailliard Shultz
“Mayor Newsom is personally helping your community grow stronger and larger as he will be welcoming, with the help of his wife, a little lad or lassie of his own,” said Shultz, as she introduced her boss. “May I present to you, Mayor Daddy Newsom!”
Mayor Newsom joked that his office performs numerous flag raising ceremonies, some for countries no one has ever heard of.
“But it is no joke to recognize these communities and their contributions not just by tolerating these ceremonies but by celebrating them,” said Newsom. “Especially as San Francisco is the birthplace of the United Nations.”
Later that evening, the American Ireland Fund held it’s annual dinner at the St. Francis Hotel to honor Kevin Starr.
This San Francisco native is a storied scholar who has toiled as author, journalist, historian and professor. He is the recipient of a National Humanities Medal, was named CA State Librarian Emeritus by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his great grandparents hailed from Co. Roscommon in Ireland.
“While there was trouble and suffering for the Irish immigrants here, there was also great triumphs and success,” said Starr. “With the help of our Protestant and Jewish brethren, those early San Francisco Irish wrote the news and the poems and helped establish the banks.”
The combination of his Irish and San Francisco heritage helped Starr discover a gift of his lineage: “Across seven decades, I have experienced a most wonderful life.”
Last fall, Starr was the surprise recipient of another honor: he was randomly chosen from the audience at the Post Street Theater and brought onstage to be publicly teased by Dame Edna during a performance of Barry Humprhies’ Live and Intimate In Her First Last Tour.
With the typical straight-faced and dry wit of the Irish, Starr deadpanned that these recent honors were both, indeed, “Comparable.”
For more St. Patrick’s Day events check these venue listings:
Crossroads Irish-American Festival
The Irish Literary and Historical Society Dinner
The Hibernian-Newman Club St. Patrick's Day Lunch