Ciara Kenny

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Finding an unexpected link to Ireland in California

The kindness of strangers on St Patrick’s Day in an Irish town was touching, writes Sarah Walsh

Sarah Walsh, Charles Dowd and William, Jonathan and Grace Walsh-Dowd in Murphy's CA for Irish Day 2014

Fri, Mar 21, 2014, 12:28


Sarah Walsh

You know it’s going to be a good weekend when a stranger pays for your dinner on the first night, and leaves the restaurant before you even find out about it. Things were looking good for our St Patrick’s Day weekend in the town of Murphys, California.

On a recent trip to the Sierra Navada mountains, we ended up in Calaveras County, in the middle of Gold Country. During the gold rush in the 1840s, this very rural area was suddenly inundated with prospectors, and towns sprung up in a hurry. The one we couldn’t drive by without checking out was Murphys. There are large green Shamrocks painted on the street and of course, the town was called after two Irish men, John and Daniel Murphy.

The Murphy brothers arrived in this spot in 1848 and established their mining camp. The area become known as “Murphy’s Camp” and later “Murphy’s Diggings”, before eventually becoming just Murphys. The brothers struck gold in the end but in the meantime, they were smart enough to support themselves by selling supplies to other prospectors. We decided to go back there to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.

Last Saturday, the “Irish Day” celebration started off with a parade down Main Street. Lasting about 30 minutes, it had both very familiar elements – marching bands, floats, dancers – and more local flavour – vintage Thunderbirds, Mustangs and fire-trucks, plus the reigning Beauty Queen of Calaveras County on horse-back, wearing flashy rodeo gear. There were also a lot more leprechauns than we would be used to in Ireland.

After the parade, everyone walked in the sunshine to buy Irish food and drinks from the stalls along the streets, like Irish stew and corned beef hotdogs (yes, really). Murphys is surrounded by vineyards and has over two dozen boutique wineries, all family owned and operated. There are several wine-tasting rooms on Main Street – we visited the Milliaire and the Zucca Mountain tasting rooms – enough for one day.

There is something very pleasing about finding an unexpected link to your own country when abroad. Apart from the novelty of an Irish Californian town, there is the irony of Irish people fleeing the famine and striking it rich in the gold-rush. And then there is also the pleasure of seeing the impact of our own little country on a much larger one.

So back to dinner the first night: we don’t know if it was our accents, or that the three kids were on their best behavior, but when we called for the bill (and we were last in the restaurant – not for the first time in the US), it had been covered by an earlier local guest, who just told the manager he liked us. It was a lovely gesture we won’t forget.