What Makes Jersey Irish?

Reflecting on the Garden State's Irish heritage.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

The Numbers: More than 15 percent of Jersey residents—or about 1.3 million people—claim at least partial Irish ancestry. Toms River has the most—as many as 20,000, according to the 2014 census.

The Parades: Newark’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, offically in its 83rd year, is the state’s oldest. (Seton Hall historian Dermot Quinn says it actually dates to the 1830s.) The Belmar/Lake Como parade is recognized as the state’s largest, with crowd estimates approaching 200,000 in some years.

The Namesakes: Samuel Hackett, an Irish immigrant in the early 1700s, was a prominent landowner in what would become Hackettstown. Thomas Fleming, from County Tyrone, lent his family name to Flemington in the 1740s.

The Towns: So many Irish laborers settled north of Newark in the 1760s the area was called “Irishtown.” A century later—after an influx of Irish Catholics fleeing the potato famine—part of Newark’s Ironbound section was dubbed Little Ireland, Trenton’s Fourth Ward was Irishtown and Paterson had its own Dublin. Spring Lake and other Shore towns are still called the Irish Riviera.

The Pols: Paterson’s namesake, William Paterson, was born in County Antrim, and became New Jersey’s second governor in 1790. It was not until Richard J. Hughes in 1962 that an Irish Catholic presided over the government in Trenton. He was succeeded by Irish Catholics William T. Cahill (1970-1974) and Brendan Byrne (1974-1982).

The Stars: From Washington (Supreme Court Justice William Brennan) to Hollywood (Nathan Lane, director Kevin Smith), from books (Mary Higgins Clark, Anna Quindlen) to sports (Wellington Mara, James J. Braddock), top performers have at least some Irish Jersey roots—even if you can’t always tell by their names (John Travolta, Bruce Springsteen, Derek Jeter).

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