Finding the Irish this St. Patrick's Day

Mike Murphy and Johnny Ziomeck of the Houston Fenians
Houston may not be the number one destination for Saint Patrick's Day but it's fast becoming a hot spot for Irish immigrants. As we gear up to celebrate all things green this weekend Edel Howlin finds out just where those Irish are... that is, the ones with the accent.

It's not easy to track down Irish people in Houston. Trust me, I've tried. But a good place to start is the Center for Irish Studies at St. Thomas University in Montrose.  Lori Gallagher is its director. Over the nine years she's grown the center, she's also observed the number of Irish people coming to Houston grow.  

"The Irish in Houston are all spread out. Many came through engineering, many came in the medical profession as nurses and doctors, and many came just through the whole energy sector. Now with the biomedical boom, there are more Irish coming in who are scientists and doctors who pursue their research in the Houston Medical Center, because it's second to none."

The Irish Center regularly hosts social events to bring the Irish and non-Irish community together. It's quite a large group and they're very dedicated to the center, but they're also of an older generation. The younger generation of Irish in Houston is a demographic that hasn't really been touched, and that's where the Houston Fenians comes in. Johnny Ziomek is their Chairman.

"Come out and enjoy the game really, it's an exciting, fun, fast, just enjoyable thing to play and to watch for that matter.  And we're really hoping that people will come out and support us, and become part of the club."

The game Ziomek is talking about is Gaelic Football, a hugely popular amateur sport played in Ireland that's kind of a cross between rugby and soccer. Players don't wear any protective gear and it's probably about as fast-paced as a basketball game. While Ziomek was born in New Jersey, relatives on his mother's side are Irish. That's where his love of Gaelic Football comes from and why, when he moved to Houston, he tried to get a team started.  Now, two years later, his efforts are finally paying off.

"Two years of nothing and then in October, two weeks in a row, I was contacted. So, about six months later, here we are and we're training now and there's several other teams here in Texas, and we're looking to play our first game on April 14th."

The first person who contacted Ziomek and helped get the proverbial ball rolling was Michael Murphy.  Murphy was born in Mayo in the west of Ireland and has been living in Houston nearly six years. Finding fellow Irishmen or indeed Irish women hasn't been easy. 

"For the first four years of me being here, extremely difficult to find other Irish, even in Irish pubs…so we're hoping that this will eventually give a focal point for Irish community, and we can have social gatherings, not just sporting events, but social events."

The Houston Fenians has over thirty members already but it's looking to continue to grow that number. They'll be playing teams in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, Corpus Christi and Little Rock, Arkansas. One team member, Eddie Kelleher, is also a teacher at St Thomas's Irish center. If you join the team, he may just teach you a couple of Irish words or "cupla focal" as we say in Ireland. And if you're looking to sound authentically Irish for this St. Patrick's Day then he has just the phrase.

"'Is minic ciuin ciontach' It means, in English, 'tis often the quiet are guilty.'"

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...