At least one pair of Irish eyes is smiling this St. Patrick’s Day as a result of Joe Biden’s sudden rise in the presidential sweepstakes. The former vice president’s Irish heritage could help revive interest in an Irish American Museum in Washington, said Carl Shanahan, a Connecticut businessman who has been promoting the project for years.
“We haven’t been as active as we were before,” said Shanahan, who first proposed a museum in 2008 but saw a fundraising effort dry up during the financial crisis that year. “But we have Biden in the running now. He was brought up Irish.”
If elected, the 77-year-old Biden would be the most Irish president since John F. Kennedy, whose grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the 1800s, and Ronald Reagan, who had Irish ancestors and also famously played football star George Gipp, of the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, in the 1940 movie “Knute Rockne, All American.”
Biden often references his Irish roots in speeches and occasionally quotes an Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. His own lyric at an Iowa forum in December — “I may be Irish, but I’m not stupid” — could get Biden into a brawl at many an Irish pub.
But even if Biden were to win and have the White House painted Kelly green, the road to an Irish American museum in Washington will be long and winding.
Irishman Bradley Byrne, an Alabama Republican in the House, has introduced legislation that would set up a commission to study an Irish American museum, but so far it has only 14 co-sponsors. By comparison, a billto establish an American Latino Museum on the National Mall has 295 supporters.
Other ethnic groups are well ahead of the Irish on the museum front: A Chinese American Museum is scheduled to open this year 12 blocks north of the White House, and the German-American Heritage Museum of the USA opened a decade ago not far from Capitol Hill. Similar cultural museums are scattered across the country, including the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, New York, which Shanahan sees as a wee bit of an insult.
“The one in Albany is like in a house,” he said. “You don’t want to take a great idea and put it in the back room of some place. It’s a great cause.”
Shanahan insists there’s “a lot of support” for an Irish museum and it will come to fruition if enough money can be raised to buy a site and construct a building.
“The Irish story is pretty much part of the American story,” he said. “We’ve been here since before the Revolution, and we fought on both sides — we fought with the English, and we fought with the Americans.”
It’s also a story of immigrants overcoming discrimination and scorn more than a century ago when businesses would put up signs warning, “No Irish Need Apply,” Shanahan said. “It’s the American Dream story.”
Some cultural museums around the country:
- National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C.
- National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.
- The Mexican Cultural Institute of Washington, D.C.
- The Jewish Museum, New York City
- The Italian American Museum of Los Angeles
- The German-American Heritage Museum of the USA, Washington, D.C.
- The Polish American Museum, Port Washington, N.Y.
- Ukrainian American Archives & Museum, Hamtramck, Mich.
- The Russian American Heritage Museum, Brooklyn, N.Y.
- The Irish American Heritage Museum, Albany, N.Y.
- The Belgian American Museum, Roseville, Mich.
- The American Swedish Institute, Chicago
- Museum of Danish America, Elk Horn, Iowa