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Straight from the Emerald Isle, local Irish-Americans

Created date

February 28th, 2009

By Kathleen Szczepanik

It s March, and you know what that means time to find your favorite green outfit and get ready for Irish Heritage Month and St. Patrick s Day on March 17.

"I plan to start the day off by attending mass at the chapel here on campus," says Alice Connolly, a second generation Irishwoman who lives at Cedar Crest, in Pompton Plains. "I always wear green and plan to decorate my shelf with shamrocks, a pot of gold, and of course, a leprechaun."

Connolly says she ll also listen to her favorite Irish music like "Danny Boy" and "I ll Take You Home Kathleen" before she settles in front of the TV for the annual St. Patrick s Day parade from New York City, the original parade host since 1762 when Irish immigrants in the British colonial army marched down city streets. She ll finish the day with a traditional supper of corned beef and cabbage.

Irish traditions

"Everyone knows that they guard the gold at the end of the rainbow," says Christine Jaeger, referring to what leprechauns do.

Jaeger, also of Cedar Crest, is a first generation, 100% Irishwoman who s father is from Sleigo and mother is from Longford. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Jaeger says her parents met here in the United States, but growing up, everything was in the Irish tradition.

"We always had a big party for St. Patrick s Day," she says. "Aunt Kitty came from Ireland, and we watched the parade and danced to our favorite song, McNamara s Band. "

Four years ago, she had the time of her life when she visited her father s birthplace in Ireland. Last summer a cousin from Ireland visited her in the United States.

Maryann Campbell, of Cedar Crest, already knows that her green blouse and green pants make up her traditional St. Patrick s Day outfit. Her whole family always gets together to eat corned beef and cabbage and Irish soda bread.

"We ll retell old stories over and over again and remember our ancestors who came before us," she says.

Ancestors inspire book

For Al Meredith, of Seabrook, Cedar Crest s sister community, in Tinton Falls, the thought of tracing his mother s Irish background from County Cork was intriguing.

"I wanted to find out where my grandparents came from," Meredith says, "and in doing so, I ended up writing a novel on that wonderful journey through Ireland."

As he traveled through Ireland, Meredith wondered what the future held for farmers whose children didn t want to continue the occupation. The Fields of Innishannon, his first novel, came as a result. "The story covers four generations of a sheep-farming family," he says.

Meredith, a former Army colonel with 32 years of service, says the road to publication wasn t something that happened over night.

"It took a couple trips to Ireland, a writing course, the actual writing of the book, and then the publication process about two-and-a-half years total time for everything to come to fuition," he says.

Meredith says the best part of the book was being able to take it back to Ireland for the locals to read.

"They didn t expect it," he says. "They were delighted that I came back, and we worked with a local bookstore in Dublin to make it available to anyone who was interested."

This year, like every other, Meredith will march in the Belmar St. Patrick s Day Parade on March 1 with his fellow members of the Friendly Sons of the Shillelaghs Pipe and Drum Band from Old Bridge.