Photos by Larry Blucher
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A trip to Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day may not be feasible, but there’s a pretty fair approximation of the Emerald Isle’s inviting pubs and world-famous goodwill nestled along the southern border of Westchester. Snaking westward from the Thruway to Bronx River Road, the scene on Yonkers’ McLean Avenue has enough Irish pubs, grocers, and accents to make even the most ardent Hibernophile feel right at home.
The neighborhood has even earned the nickname “The Emerald Mile,” according to Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Irish Community Center on McLean Avenue. “From Bronx River Road to Conor Park adds up to about a mile,” she says. “And it’s the hub of the Irish community.”
In 2002, the New York Times dubbed the neighborhood “Dublin on the Thruway,” noting how the Irish epicenter had shifted from the Bronx’s Bainbridge Avenue to Woodlawn/southern Yonkers. Immigration was waning then, with many staying home—or heading back home—to cash in on the roaring Irish economy. But that crashed in the late aughts of the new millennium, and so the Irish are back.
According to the US Census, 35 percent of residents in two tracts along McLean Avenue claimed Irish ancestry in 2014. The neighborhood’s eastern half, from Kimball Avenue to Bronx River Road, boasts a population that’s 45 percent Irish, up from 42 percent five years ago.
McLean Avenue and Katonah Avenue (which is a few blocks to the south) form one big Irish neighborhood that sprouted a few decades back from a handful of lively pubs, such as McKeon’s and Heritage Bar. The shops followed. “If you have bars, you have to have other stuff,” says Oliver Charles, owner of the Butcher’s Fancy meat shop. “You have to feed them while they’re here.”
That includes blood pudding at Charles’ place or a wide range of imported teas and breads at Market Irish Food. “If you thought you’d miss the food from back home, your concern is eliminated as soon as you walk into a shop,” says Kelleher.
Many of the arrivals are 20-somethings whose parents grew up along McLean but raised their kids in Pearl River, Mahopac, or other Irish-accented suburbs. “Their children want to live near the city and absolutely love the Irish community,” says Daniel Dennehy, national chairman of immigration for the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
The main draw continues to be those cozy pubs, whether it’s Ned Devine’s, Burke’s, or J.P. Clarke’s. Like in Ireland, there’s always a fundraiser with live music, the community aiding a sick child or helping get an Irish step-dance crew to Ireland.
The best known is cavernous Rory Dolan’s, which has been serving up shepherd’s pie, Guinness, and traditional music since 1994. Seamus Keane, singer in the local band The Narrowbacks (Irish slang for weak, office-dwelling, first-generation Irish), says having Rory’s on the résumé means a band can play just about any Irish pub around New York. “Rory Dolan’s is not just a bar but a community in and of itself,” he says, adding, “McLean Avenue is a meeting place; you can feel its heartbeat when you’re walking down the street. It’s a living thing.”
St. Paddy’s Day — Westchester style
St. Patrick’s Day? It’s more like St. Patrick’s Week. See our list below for a heaping helping of some of the most Irish-spirited events and performances to be found in dear old “County Westchester.”
White Plains St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains
(“NY’s Thirstiest Irish Band”)
Vintage Lounge, White Plains
(“Fired-Up NY Irish Music”)
The Brazen Fox, White Plains
Eastchester St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Starts at Immaculate Conception School and ends at Lake Isle Country Club.
Northern Westchester/Putnam St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Route 6, Mahopac
The Colleens of Comedy (hilarious standup with comedians Maureen Langan & Jane Condon)
The Palace Theatre, Stamford
Yonkers St. Patrick’s Day Parade
McLean Avenue, Yonkers
Rhythm in the Night
(a tale of love & salvation told through Irish step dancing)
Westchester Community College, Valhalla