Nearly one in ten Americans claim to be Irish, and while Denverites may only be able to boast around 4% Irish ancestry, no one can deny Coloradans’ Irish spirit. If anyone can say that the Irish spirit runs strong in Colorado, it’s Jack Kelly. His name gives it away before a couple minutes of conversation can do the same — Kelly is green to the core.
Kelly, a current resident at Holly Creek, was born and raised in Brooklyn but both sides of his grandparents came from Ireland. He self-identifies as “FBI,” or “Full Blooded Irish.” Ever since he can remember, he has celebrated March 17 with family and friends of all ages. His father led the St. Patrick’s Day parade as a mounted policeman, and Kelly joined the parade himself for four years during college. He also recalls wearing green at his grade school (named St. Patrick’s of course) to avoid getting pinched; enjoying plenty of corned beef, cabbage, and red skin potatoes; and enjoying one of his favorite pastimes — singing.
“My sister used to sing in her early teens in a local radio program on St. Patrick’s Day,” Kelley shared. “We used to have a number of musicians at our house, playing the piano and a lot of family over. There were five children, and we all sang songs for everyone… My mother never sang, but she would have each of us perform.”
At other times Kelly and a friend of his “went to Irish dances in Manhattan as well and would go to a local bar with two guys from Galway, Ireland, and play music.”
The group performed impromptu one time and was so good that they were unconventionally told to return — through the sign outside the bar that announced they would be back the next week.
Now a Colorado resident, Kelly is pleased that Irish and St. Patrick’s traditions remain strong in the Centennial State. Through Irish dancing, singing and cuisine, Kelly has found plenty of ways to honor and share his heritage where he lives now at Holly Creek Life Plan Community in Centennial. This year, the community hosted a performance by the Wick Irish Dancers, featuring Guinness on tap all month in its lobby bar and plating up favorites like corned beef and cabbage and fish and chips at its in-house restaurant.
If you catch him, be sure to ask for a few lines from an Irish song about the mountain Slievenamon: Singing — Kelly will be quick to tell you — is still central to his celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
Based on the turnout for this year’s 61st downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade and the number of local St. Patrick happenings, it appears that many Denverites are finding similar ways to observe March 17, and why not? After all, in Kelly’s own words, “It’s a party, a chance to take ourselves less seriously” and celebrate part of the past that makes us proud at the same time.