Small but proud Quebec City Irish community celebrates heritage

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Quebec City is getting ready for its Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which almost didn’t happen due to budgetary concerns.

“After three years of absence, it was tough to even know if we could hold our parade,” said Bruce Kirkwood, the parade’s vice president.

However, Kirkwood says the show will go on thanks to sponsors and pipes from Boston, New York, Chicago and Toronto.

“It’s the only parade where you get to see them all performing together, and it’s very unique in that sense. Those are the top bands in the world,” said Kirkwood.

The bands are just one of the class acts Quebec City crowds will be dazzled by this month.

The Shannon Irish Show kicked off Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations on Saturday.

“It’s a beautiful display of Irish culture and talent here in Shannon and the Quebec City area,” said coordinator Kerry Ann King.

Fifty performers of all ages sing or dance, and organizers say a good amount of Irish humour is mixed in.

It’s a longstanding tradition, dating back to 1966.

“Those wonderful people celebrated their Irishness at Saint Patrick’s Day and all year round, playing music and singing in their homes. And as the years went by they noticed that they had quite a bit of talent, so they decided it was time to share,” said King.

The show draws people from Ottawa, Toronto and sometimes as far as British Columbia.

They are among the Irish diaspora who moved away for work or education opportunities.

Concordia University Canadian Irish Studies Associate Professor Jane McGaughey says there was once a massive wave of Irish immigrants arriving in Quebec City.

So much so, she says 40 per cent of Quebecers can draw roots back to Irish heritage but may not know because women changed their last names when they married.

“In the mid 19th century, they were making up 1/4 of the population there, and then we know in the 1871 census that had fallen so that they were about 1/5. I think about 10 to 12 thousand people,” she said.

According to Irish Heritage Quebec, the community makes up around one per cent of Quebec City’s population.

“The ones who are here are very, very willing to share their Irishness, willing to share their culture and Saint Patrick’s Day is just the time to do it. That’s when everyone wants to be a little bit Irish,” said King.

Thousands of Quebecers plan to line the historic streets for the March 25 parade.

The parade route starts near St. Patrick’s high school, the alma mater of grand Marshall Joe Lonergan, where he went on to teach for three decades until his retirement in 2006.

Since then, the Irish Quebecer has remained deeply involved in the community. He says he’s proud to be a part of it.

“I consider it a great honour to represent the Irish of Quebec City,” said Lonergan.

While Quebec’s parade may be smaller than Montreal’s, Lonergan says that’s one of the best parts.

“I know I’ll be continually hearing ‘hi Joe, hello Joe’ and you see people you recognize that perhaps you taught over the years or from the parish. Just old friends,” he said.

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