Saturday, March 12, 2011

The German-Irish Americans on St. Patrick's Day

I really had never given much thought to my identity as a German-Irish American until one day in 1994, when I spoke with Pat O'Kelly. He was a Chicago radio disc jockey of the era who spun records on the various FM oldies stations. He told me that, despite his glaringly Irish surname, he was actually half Irish and half German.

That is precisely what I happen to be, except the other way around.

At the time, I was scheduled to give a speech on the need for immigration control before a group of more than a hundred veterans in Glenview and O'Kelly gave me a good Irish-German joke that I could use to warm up the audience:

"Being an Irish-German,
My Irish side is unhappy with me because I drink.
My German side is unhappy with me because I drink,

I used O'Kelly's joke to open my speech and the audience laughed heartily, a sentiment no doubt fueled by the fact that this was taking place during the pre-dinner cocktail hour.

Since then, I have heard that the ethnic mixture of German and Irish blood is actually quite widespread in the U.S.

No one questions that those of German heritage constitute the single largest demographic group at 17%. But I was surprised last fall to hear a report that after Germans, the second largest group is German-Irish and the third largest is Irish.

There is even a Facebook page for German-Irish/Irish German Americans with 2,600 members.

When I did a little research into the matter, it began to make sense.

It seems that the principal two waves of immigration to the USA from Germany and Ireland were strangely contemporaneous. In the time around 1848-1855 Germany was undergoing a political upheaval due to a chaotic, failed anti-monarchic revolution while Ireland was experiencing its first potato famine. That led to waves of both groups alighting on American shores.

Then again, in the 1880s, Bismarckian unification and the unsettling effects of the industrial revolution prompted another tsunami of Germans to hotfoot it across the ocean and this happened to be while Ireland's potatoes were blighted once again.

So it seems that a lot of Germans and Irish came to America at the same time and when here, more than a few of them decided to hook-up, so to speak. This was facilitated by the fact that most Irish and most Southern and Western Germans were Roman Catholics and managed to hook-up in the context of the Catholic Church. This also led to them having an awful lot of kids.

So that is why German-Irish and Irish-Germans are so plentiful in the US.

In honor of the celebration of St. Patrick's Day this week. I am going to celebrate my German-Irish heritage by publishing my two favorite German-Irish, Irish-German dinner recipes:

Six (6) bottles of Beck's Bier and one (1) hunk of boiled corned beef.

Six (6) bottles of Guinness Stout and one (1) Thuringer sausage.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everybody!!

(Editor's Note: If you liked this article, you might want to take a look at the Chicago Schlager Music Review's March 17, 2012 article on the St. Patrick's day celebration in Munich, Germany by clicking right here.


  1. Count me among the German-Irish crowd! Or Irish-German, I have no idea which. Plus, a few other odds and ends thrown in - mostly odds. ;)

    By rights, I should be a lush, but for some reason, I never developed a taste for beer. Go figure!

    Happy St. Patrick's Day to you too!

  2. With all of that Gaelic Fal Knyt code and all, I would have taken you for 100% mick.

  3. Us German-Irish kids grow up looking up to Robert Duvall in the Godfather.

  4. I just discovered. William F Buckley Jr. was Irish and Swiss/German. Now how's that for stellar company?

  5. Nobel Prize winning author, John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) was German-Irish. His paternal name was Großsteinbeck.

  6. Grace Kelly was born November 12, 1929 in Philadelphia. She came from an affluent family, of half Irish and half German descent.

  7. Bob Newhart of TV fame was Irish/German, born in Oak Pk. IL, just outside of Chicago

  8. My mother is 100 percent German maiden name is Straub and
    my Dad is 100 percent his name being Whalen I'm very proud to be German Irish what a blessed combination.

  9. proud German-Irish American, member of both the Steuben Association and the Emerald Society. I even have a Pub Shed called the Kelt & Kraut.

  10. being that my last name is German, I always said German-Irish American. Many Germans converted their German last names to English.


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