No Enclave — Irish Los Angeles


I have Ireland on the brain today. Oh right, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day. I wondered whether or not I, like so many observant Christians, should temporarily set aside my abstinence from alcohol but then I’m not even Christian so I wouldn’t feel so much like I was pulling one over on the Creator as just betraying myself. Although I knew that it would take up most of my day and only be completed in the waning hours of the holiday, I nevertheless decided to tackle writing a No Enclave about Irish Los Angeles.

To be fair, I’ve been thinking a bit about Ireland for other reasons too. For one, I’m planning on going their next year with my siblings. It will be my first trip overseas with siblings since my sister and I went with our parents to the Bahamas when I was two unless you count my visit to Taiwan ten years ago — but my sister was living there then — and in neither did our brother, who’s thus never traveled further from the US than Toronto. I figured that Ireland would be a good first country to visit, speaking as they do, a dialect of English. My efforts to learn Irish continue although at this rate I’ll probably have few Duolingo phrases more useful than “Ólaim bainne agus uisce” (which is not actually true). There’s also the fact the island is small and seemingly easily explored by train, bust, bicycle, and foot.

This year is also the 100th anniversary of the partition of Ireland, an event which took place on 3 May 1921 and, in the wake of Brexit and in the face of changing attitudes and demographics, it seems to a sometimes unrealistically hopeful person like me that reunification might be in sight. Oh yeah, and since 1991, March has been Irish-American Heritage Month… so whether you read this tonight, on St. Patrick’s, tomorrow on Sheelagh’s Day, or in the two remaining weeks of March, it should hopefully find you in the appropriate spirit.


Ireland (Irish: Éire) is an island in the North Atlantic, separated from Great Britain by the North Channel, Irish Sea, and St George’s Channel. It’s divided geopolitically between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland — the latter a part of the UK. The combined population of both comes to about 6.9 million. The Irish people are an ethnic group native to the island, which has been inhabited for about 12,500 years — just a little less long than Southern California, which was first settled at least 13,000 years ago. Despite Ireland’s small population, there are an estimated 50-80 million people of Irish ancestry in the world, making it one of the largest diasporas. The countries with the highest numbers of Irish-descended peoples are, in descening order, the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.


In 2019, there were an estimated 32 million Americans of at least partial Irish heritage, comprising 9.7% of the country’s population. Large-scale Irish immigration occurred throughout much of the 19th century through the 1920s, when immigration quotas were put in place that favored white Protestants. Today, Irish immigrants are more likely to Canada, Australia, or New Zealand that they are the US. In 2016, there were roughly 125,840 Irish-born immigrants living in the US and where they choose to live has also changed. Irish historically favored Boston, Philadelphia, Louisville, Buffalo, Nashville, Kansas City, Raleigh, Cleveland, St. Paul, or Baltimore. The five states with the largest Irish populations are all in New England. The smaller numbers of Irish who emigrate to the US today, however, are more likely to choose cities like Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Chicago, Seattle, or Austin.


John O’Dwyer Creaghe

There are, of course, Irish who come to Los Angeles. I even worked with one — the son of Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick, best known for his iconic image of Irish-Spanish Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara but also known for his album covers designed for Irish rock group Thin Lizzy. There’s a significant population of Irish in several Latin American countries including Argentina but also Chile and Mexico and there have been numerous Irish Angelenos of Latino background. During the Texas Revolution (1835-1836) and Mexican-American War (1846-1848), many Irish settlers in the region sided with Catholic Mexico against the Protestant US. Limerick-born anarchist John O’Dwyer Creaghe migrated to Los Angeles from Argentina in 1911.In more recent times, Los Alamitos pole vaulter Victoria “Tori” Peña has has competed for Ireland in IAAF competition and has dual American and Irish citizenship.


William Mulholland

There have been many prominent Irish American politicians in US history, including in California. There were many Irish settlers in Los Angeles County, including John Gorman (founder of Gorman’s Station, now the town of Gorman) and John Hayes (founder of Hayes’ Town, now the Hayes neighborhood of El Monte).

One of the most influential Irish Angeleno figures in Los Angeles was civil engineer, William Mulholland, who was responsible for developing the infrastructure which Los Angeles still relies upon to keep its people from dying of thirst and its fallow lawns green. Mulholland was born in Belfast in 1855. After he was beaten for his bad grades at O’Connell School, he ran away from home, joining the British Merchant Navy at the age of fifteen. Several years after arriving in the US, Mulholland migrated to Los Angeles in 1877. He obtained a job at as Deputy Zanjero for the Los Angeles Water Company. From 1902 to 1905, Mulholland (then superintendent of the Los Angeles Water Department) conspired with mayor Frederick Eaton to obtain water rights to the Owens Valley. Water from the north came flowing into Los Angeles in 1913. Mulholland’s career effectively ended, however, with the collapse of the St. Francis Dam, a disaster which took the lives of at least 431 Angelenos. Mulholland’s career ended but his legacy continued in the names of Mullholland Drive, Mulholland Highway, and Dirt Mulholland. Frank Black wrote and recorded two songs about him, too, “Ole Mulholland” and “St. Francis Dam Disaster.” Most famously, however, Mulholland very loosely inspired the character Hollis Mulray in the 1974 film, Chinatown.

John Tracy Gaffey

John Tracy Gaffey was a newspaperman, politician, and prominent citizen in Los Angeles. He was born in Galway in 1860 to Thomas Gaffey and Ann E. Tracy. Gaffey’s father died when he was five and when one of his brothers ran afoul of the authorities, Ann and her seven children emigrated to Northern California around 1867. After a year at the University of California, Berkely, Gaffey became a reporter for the Santa Cruz Courier and in 1879 founded his own newspaper, the Santa Cruz Herald. Gaffey moved to Los Angeles where he married Arcadia Bandini in 1887. From 1892-1894, Gaffey served on Los Angeles City Council. In 1893, he became the first editor of the Los Angeles Herald. By 1905, they lived their two children, John and Margaret, in San Pedro, where Gaffey was instrumental in developing the harbor. On Bandini Hill, the Gaffeys constructed an estate they named Hacienda La Rambla. Gaffey died in 1935. Hacienda La Rambla was demolished in 1964 but Gaffey Street remains the primary thoroughfare of the San Pedro community and a plaque memorializes him at the Gaffey Building.

John G. Downey

Other prominent Irish Angelenos in the public sphere include Richard Riordan, Los Angeles’s 39th mayor, was the son of Irish immigrants. A blacksmith named Henry King was the third chief of police in Los Angeles, who served two terms from 1878-1880 and 1881-1883. The first archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, John Joseph Cantwell, was born in Limerick in 1874. John G. Downey, born in County Roscommon, served from 1860-1862 as California’s seventh governor and until the election in 2003 of Arnold Schwarzenegger was the state’s only immigrant governor. Downey went on to found the community of Downey in 1873 and some of its settlers were Irish.

Matthew Keller

In the 19th Century, Los Angeles was the nation’s leader in winemaking and one of the early vintners in the early American era was Matthew Keller. Keller was a Spiritualist and Francophile born in Cork in 1810. After graduating from Trinity College, he came to New York in 1832. He next came to Texas where he worked as a merchant. After the Mexican-American War, he stayed in Mexico, where he met fellow Irishman (and future Angeleno) Andrew Boyle. In 1851, Keller settled in Los Angeles where he opened a general store before acquiring the Los Angeles Vineyard from Damien Marchesseault, located in what was then Frenchtown. He later acquired the Rising Sun Vineyard. On his vineyards, he grew a dozen grape varieties. Keller was also a director of the Farmers & Merchants Bank, a director of the Pioneer Oil Company, a Los Angeles County public administrator (1854-1858), on the Board of Supervisors from (1864-1867), a Los Angeles Ranger, and a member of both the Vigilance Committee and the fire department. Known as “Don Mateo,” his legacy is memorialized by Keller and Mateo streets. He died in 1881.

Andrew Boyle

Another locally prominent Irish settler was Andrew A. Boyle, born “Andrew O’Boyle” in County Mayo. Boyle left Ireland in 1832 and in 1834, and helped found the community of San Patricio in Mexican Texas. He moved to Los Angeles in the 1850s and the Eastside neighborhood of Boyle Heights was named after him in 1875. James Irvine, born in County Down, moved to the US in 1845. He came to California during the Gold Rush and in the 1860s bought 368 km2 of land in what’s now Orange County which formed the basis of modern day Irvine.

James Irvine

The city of Cudahy also has roots with an Irishman. Michael Cudahy was born in Callan, County Kilkenny, on 7 December 1841 to Patrick and Elizabeth (née Shaw) Cudahy. The Cudahy family came to the US in ’49 and settled in Milwaukee. Michael dropped out of school when he was fourteen and found employment in a meat-packing plant and worked his way up to become a partner at Armour and Company. In 1890, with his brothers Edward and Patrick, he established the Cudahy Packing Company in South Omaha, Nebraska. In 1893, Cudahy bought Nadeau Ranch and renamed it Cudahy Ranch. In 1908, two years before his death, he subdivided the land as Cuday Ranch, which in 1960 was incorporated as the city of Cudahy.

Michael Cudahy

Today, neither Cudahy nor Downey nor Boyle Heights have large populations of Irish Angelenos and to my knowledge, there has never been anything like a “Little Ireland” anywhere in Los Angeles. As of the 2000 census, there was only one city in Los Angeles County in which Irish (Scots-Irish, to be specific) was identified as the most common ancestry — the city of Vernon. Vernon, for those who don’t know, is a “phantom city” — a tax shelter masquerading as a municipality. In 2010, the population of the “city” was just 112. Even still, the Irish plurality only accounts for 10.6% of the population.

There is one neighborhood in which Irish is the most common ancestry, Hancock Park, where 6.6% of residents self-identify as Irish American. Irish is the second most common ancestry in quite a few communities, though, including Hermosa Beach (11.9%), El Segundo (11.5%), Acton (11.1%), Lake Hughes (10.7%), Elizabeth Lake (10.6%), Castaic Canyons (10.5%), Redondo Beach (10.2%), Unincorporated Santa Catalina Island (10.2%), Playa del Rey (9.9%), Southwest Antelope Valley (9.8%), Angeles Crest (9.7%), West San Dimas (9.3%), Quartz Hill (9.2%), Castaic (9%), Toluca Lake (8.7%), Stevenson Ranch (7.9%), Westchester (7.7%), San Pasqual (7.3%), Fairfax (6.5%), Val Verde (6.5%), Palms (4.3%), Commerce (.9%), Wilmington (.8%), and Lennox (.5%).


The most prominent product of Irish culture in Los Angeles is perhaps the Irish pub. In Ireland, the Irish Pub has been an integral aspect of Irish social culture for centuries serving, it would seem, as something of a secular counterpart to the church. The pub offers sin on Saturday night, the church redemption on Sunday morning. Of course, public houses also offer drinks, games, music, dancing, storytelling, cattle trading, and matrimonial matchmaking. Irish pubs in the US tend to be only superficially Irish and almost charmingly unconcerned with authenticity.

The Irish had almost no tradition of dining out. Food might be served to guests at an inn or at an eating house on market days but there were few dedicated restaurants. In the 1970s, pubs in Ireland began offering food — items like Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage, or fish and chips — especially in areas frequented by tourists. Around the same time, a new sort of “Irish pub” began to appear in the US. These American “Irish chain pubs” might feature a bit of dark wood, a green awning, and usually about seventy televisions blaring American football or baseball games. At these sorts of establishments, a waitress clad in green plaid and spandex and wearing a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” button might be expected to hand a patron a laminated menu featuring traditional Irish items like Reuben egg rolls, Irish nachos, Loaded Potato Soup, or Turkey O’Tooles. One of the first of these Irish chain pubs was O’Charley’s, founded by Charles Watkins in Nashville in 1971. I’m not actually sure if there were any in Los Angeles — none were ever on my radar. Bennigan’s followed, founded in Atlanta in 1976 by Colorado-born entrepreneur Norman E. Brinker. Brinker was a veteran of Jack in the Box and he also founded the Tudor English pub chain, Steak and Ale. Remarkably, these chains, seemingly set the template for many self-proclaimed Irish pubs even in recent times. Other Irish chain pubs include Finn McCool’s, Hennessey’s Tavern, Keegan’s Sports Bar and Pub, Limerick’s Tavern, and Moose McGillycuddy’s Pub & Cafe. A former roommate of mine worked at a place called Dillon’s Irish Pub & Grill, which was no more Irish than Outback Steakhouse is Australian. Ages ago, a jock friend took a group of us to a place called McMurphy’s Tavern in Pasadena that was another charmless Irish bar.

Thankfully, in Los Angeles, there are Irish establishments which almost certainly are more authentically Irish as well as kitschy simulations that are at least charming — and sometimes they manage both. Tom Bergin’s Public House, founded in 1936, is an institution of the Miracle Mile neighborhood. My partner and I once saw U2‘s guitarist, the Edge, eating their with some young people I assume were his kids. When my ex lived Downtown, above Casey’s Irish Pub (established in 1971), I was known to occasionally pop over for a drink although more often than not I struggled to sleep through the nightly cacophony that followed the clearing out of the bar’s drunken patrons after last call. Although I don’t make it to the Westside that often, when I do I have been known to go a bit out of my way to get a couple of drinks at Irish Times Pub & Restaurant, a bar founded by James McGurrin in Palms in 1995. I’ve also enjoyed a few visits to South Pasadena‘s Griffins of Kinsale, founded in 2012 by Joe Griffin.

Other Irish pubs, bars, and restaurants in the region include the Auld Dubliner, Brennan’s, Dargan’s Irish Pub, Dublin’s Irish Whiskey Pub, Durty Nellys, Gallaghers Pub & Grill, the Harp Inn, Ireland’s 32, the Irishman, the James Joyce, Jameson’s Irish Pub, Joxer Daly’s, K. C. Branagans, Molly Bloom’s, Molly Malone’s, Muldoon’s Irish Pub, Murphy’s Pub at The Belmont, O’Briens Irish Pub, O’Connell’s Sports Pub & Grille, O’Connor’s Irish Pub, O’Malley’s On Main, Patrick Molloys, Patsy’s Irish Pub, Rock & Reilly’s Irish Pub, the Shamrock Bar & Grill, Silky Sullivans, Sonny McLean’s Irish Pub, T. O’Boyles Tavern, and Tracy’s Bar & Grill. Limerick-born sleb chef and television personality Stuart O’Keeffe now lives in West Hollywood.


“Irish Music” connotes, at least for most non Irish, the traditional Irish music with its jigs and reels. When I worked at Amoeba, we would inevitably listen to groups like the Pogues (from London, England) but never, say, bands actually from Ireland such as My Bloody Valentine, Cathy Davey, Microdisney, The Duckworth Lewis Method, A House, Them, or the Stars of Heaven. Its almost Irish music has been so thoroughly stereotyped that unless there’s a penny whistle or Uilleann pipes, the average listener simply can’t accept that it’s Irish. Angeleno musicians of Irish descent, therefore, are unlikely to be recognized as Irish unless their music is recognizably celtic. Morrissey, for example, is the son of Irish immigrants and has referenced in his lyrics Irish authors like William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde. He’s also nowhere more loved than in Latino Los Angeles and who he lived for a time in West Hollywood. And yet he, and his former bandmate Johnny Marr (born John Martin Maher) are rarely acknowledged by Americans as Irish. Irish Angeleno musicians like Bing Crosby and Jim Morrison both publicly referenced their Irish ancestry but are never characterized as Irish musicians unlike, say, Los Angeles bands Flogging Molly (led by Limerick-born singer, Derek King) and House of Pain (led by rapper Everlast).

On occasion, the cultures of Los Angeles and Ireland interact in musical exchanges. Scott and Randy Rodarte of the East Los Angeles folk-punk collective, Ollin, have a 19-year tradition of coming together on St. Patrick’s Day to perform songs of the Pogues. In 1996, the Chieftains recorded an album of music with collaborations with Angeleno musicians like Linda Rondstadt and Los Lobos. In 1987, U2 filmed the video for “Where The Streets Have No Name” in Downtown Los Angeles, with a cast of uncredited Angelenos as collaborative extras.

Los Angeles is also home to Kerry Irish Productions, which produces Irish music events. Other Los Angeles groups who perform Irish-style music include Ken O’Malley & The Twilight Lords, the Fenians, Sligo Rags, and Wake the Bard. Local Irish bagpipers include Darrell Calvillo and Dave Champagne. Irish-born Angeleno musicians include Ailbhe Fitzpatrick, Danny O’Donoghue, Derek Gleeson, Graham Hopkins, Marc Carroll, Mick Cassidy, Patrick D’Arcy, Sarah McGuinness, Tanya O’Callaghan, and Yelpy. Although I don’t believe he ever lived in Los Angeles, I have to mention the great Irish actor, Richard Harris, who recorded and released a recording of Angeleno songwriter Jimmy Webb‘s song, “MacArthur Park,” in 1968.


There are several local organizations and events showcasing Irish film Los Angeles, including Irish Screen America, Los Angeles Irish Film Festival, Screen Ireland (formerly Irish Film Board), and the Irish Film & Television Academy has a Los Angeles Branch. Irish directors like Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan have both worked in Hollywood. Irish filmmakers who moved to Los Angeles include Dylan Townsend, Lawrence Doheny, Maureen Selwood, Myia Elliott, and Rex Ingram.

Patrick McGoohan as John Drake

There’ve been too many Hollywood actors and comedians of Irish ancestry to name all but they include in their ranks Catherine Moylan, Conan O’Brien, Greer Garson, Helen Hayes, Helen Kane, Jackie Gleason, James Burke, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth, Spencer Tracy, Tom Cruise, and Tyrone Power. I have to single out the incomparable Patrick McGoohan, though. McGoohan was born in Astoria to Irish parents, Rose Fitzpatrick and Thomas McGoohan and then returned, with their son, to Mullaghmore, County Leitrim. McGoohan starred in two excellent television series, Danger Man (1960-1962, 1964-1968) and The Prisoner (1967) — as well, naturally, in many non-television roles both in film and on stage. McGoohan married actress Joan Drummond, with whom he had three daughters and the family moved to the Pacific Palisades in the mid-1970s. McGoohan died in 2009.

There were and are also actors born in Ireland who moved to Los Angeles, including Amelia Summerville, Andrew Connolly, Caitriona Balfe, Colin Farrell, Colin Kenny, Creighton Hale, D’Arcy Corrigan, Daragh O’Malley, Edward Mulhare, Eileen Percy, Emma Pyne, George Brent, Glenn Quinn, Kate Price, Liam Neeson, Maureen O’Sullivan, Moyna Macgill, Natalie Britton, Orla Brady, Penny O’Brien, Richard Aherne, Sean McClory, Toby Claude, and Walter Burke.


Another interesting Irish Angeleno was Bernard Lafferty, an Irish butler whose relationship with his employer, tobacco heiress, Doris Duke raised a few eyebrows. Lafferty was born in Creeslough in 1945. Shortly after his father’s death, in 1964, he moved with his mother to Glasgow. His mother was killed there the following year when hit by a motorcyclist. Lafferty moved, with an aunt, to Philadelphia around 1980 and became the maître d’ at The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel. In 1987, he was hired by socialite Doris Duke to be the butler at her home, Duke Farms, in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Duke made Lafferty, and not her daughter, the executor of her $1.2 billion estate and then died six months later in 1993. Lafferty then purchased a $2.5 million mansion in Bel Air, where he resided until his death from a heart attack in 1996. The strange tale inspired a segment on Unsolved Mysteries, a miniseries titled Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke, (starring Richard Chamberlain as the lucky butler), and a 2007 film titled Bernard and Doris (starring Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes).


The Contemporary Irish arts Center, promotes contemporary Irish culture by both established and emerging Irish artists living in Ireland or the US. From 1994 until 2015, Theatre Banshee was the only local theater company to specialize in works by Irish playwrights (e.g. Dermot Davis, Patricia Burke Brogan, Marina Carr, and Will Eno). The Oscar Wilde Collection at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library is the largest and most significant collection of books by and about Ireland’s poet, playwright, and philosopher, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, who wrote after touring the US, “No part of America has struck me so favorably as California.” Irish dance companies and schools in Los Angeles include Butler-Fearon-O’Connor School of Dance, Celtic Gold Academy, Celtic Irish Dance Academy, Claddagh Dance Company, and Cleary Irish Dance.


Other local Irish community organizations and societies include the Los Angeles, California Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Brothers of St. Patrick, the Celtic Arts Center, the Consulate General of Ireland, the Irish Center of Southern California, Irish In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Emerald Society, and the Los Angeles County Firefighters Emerald Society.


Dougan as a Wolverhampton Wanderers player

The most popular sport in Ireland is Gaelic Football, a sport which bears some similarities to the better-known (in the US anyway), Rugby football. Metro Los Angeles supports two Gaelic Football clubs, Cougars Gaelic Football Club and Wild Geese Gaelic Football Club (based in Huntington Beach). Irish Angeleno athletes include association footballer Derek Dougan, boxers Aaron McKenna and Jason Quigley, hurler Martin O’Doherty, and wrestler Becky Lynch.


Although celebrations are modest compared to those in the Midwest, Northeast, and Upper South; St. Patrick’s Day is the biggest celebration ostensibly related to Ireland. In my experience, it’s usually little more than an excuse for amateur drinkers to get absolutely wrecked and act like fools. This view is based on limited experience as St. Patrick’s Day is the least likely day of the year one can expect to find me at a bar, waiting 45 minutes for service and soaked in the sweat of knaves in green plastic hats. I certainly wouldn’t object, though, to a St. Patrick’s Day house party as I do love a holiday. Los Angeles also celebrates Ireland Week in the first week of November. In Orange County, the Irish Fair Foundation mounts the Irish Fair and Music Fest in mid-June.

There are also at least two local Irish importers, including Kitty O’Shea’s Irish Imports and MacNamara Irish Import Shop.

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.

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