Mick McBride arrived in Roxborough from Kilmacrennan, County Donegal, by way of London, liked what he saw, and stayed.
That was in 1990. Long since married to a lovely girl from Abington named Kelley, and the father of three kids, he doesn’t regret a moment. For McBride, America truly has been the land of opportunity. He owns a busy exterior plastering outfit in Plymouth Meeting, where he and his family live.
He’s proud to say he’s an American citizen, and if you want to know what motivated him, all you have to know is this date: September 11, 2001.
“I was always thinking about it, yes, and never getting around to it, but that inspired me,” he recalls in the distinctive accent of Ireland’s Northwest, where every declarative sentence ends on interrogative up note. The terrorist attacks on that day “I just felt hurt. I didn’t like what happened. It pissed me off, y’know? I was sworn in 2002.”
Those who have come to know McBride over the years recognize him for the generous soul that he is, a genuine “shirt off his own back” kind of guy, a friend to everyone, self-effacing, glad to be an American but equally grateful to be a native Irishman. A burly guy with a big hands and a brushy mustache, he pours a lot of himself into Ancient Order of Hibernians Notre Dame Division 1 in Swedesburg, Montgomery County, where he has been a member since about the same time he decided to become a citizen.
Now, the guy who gives so much is getting something in return. Mick McBride is the 2015 Montgomery County St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal.
“I found out about it at Members Appreciation Night here at the hall,” he says. When they announced his name, “I was floored. I know there were a lot of good candidates. It’s a great honor, obviously. I thank my wife. I couldn’t do anything here without her by my side.”
Not a bad accomplishment for a boy from Kilmacrennan who came to America to find work, and who decided to make it his new home.
A friend, onetime Kilmacrennan neighbor and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) footballer, James Brady, lived in Roxborough at the time, and invited him over.
“I left school when I was 16,” he says, “and then I learned interior and exterior plastering. I left Ireland when I was 20. I went to London in 1986 to seek employment. I stayed there for four years. In 1990, I came over to visit—kind of a vacation, like, but James had me set up before I even set foot on the plane. I got a six-month visa, and I liked it so much I stayed.”
Ultimately, he got his green card on a Donnelly visa, named for Congressman Bill Donnelly who proposed the bill that created the new visas.
Well, for one, warmer climes. “I came in June. It was hot, though, but I liked the weather.”
Another reason: the Philly GAA. At the time, the local Donegal team was playing exceptionally well and went to Chicago for the North American championship. “The Irish contingent was all in Upper Darby. I knew a lot of them. My friend was the team goalkeeper—and they won.
Yet another: Better money for the work he was doing.
Finally, as if McBride needed any additional motivation to stick around, one more walked into his life.
“I met Kelley at a Wolfe Tones concert in 1992 in Springfield. She was at the concert. I didn’t know her. A friend of mine introduced us. She was very pretty; her personality was the nicest I’ve ever met. She played hard to get—‘Watch those Irish guys,’ her grandmother always told her’—but after several phone calls, she agreed to go out. We dated a little over two years, and got married in 1994.”
After that, along came the kids, and after years of working for another contractor, he started his own exterior plastering business, McBride Plastering, Inc. Gradually, he became more and more integrated into life in the States, helped along, perhaps, by the fact that he made friends so easily.
It was one of those friends who kept trying to persuade him to join the AOH in Swedesburg. After six months of prodding, he gave in.
“I came over here and liked it,” he said. “I couldn’t believe there was a bar in the basement. They said, ‘You’re Irish, you gotta join. The next thing I know, a form was shoved in my face.”
He loved it from the start, he says.
McBride went on to endear himself to the division by joining its pipe band, Irish Thunder, which practiced in the first-floor meeting room, just above the bar, on Wednesday nights.
“I’d never played a note of music in my life,” he says. “I never heard of piping until I came to this club. I was sitting downstairs here at the bar and the next thing, I heard a ‘BRRRRRRR!’ from upstairs, and I said, ‘What’s that?’ I signed up.”
McBride remembers being one of 12 prospective pipers who sat down for lessons that first night. A year later, only two people were still there, nearing the point where they could join the band on the street. The other guy was Joe McGlinchey, who nominated his friend for grand marshal.
McGlinchey and McBride have been friends from the first night the big guy joined.
“He walked in the door, and you couldn’t help but love him, and then we joined the pipe band together. We really pushed each other. One week, I did bad, one week he did bad. I don’t know if I would be where I am now on the pipes without Mick.”
McGlinchey also admired McBride’s dedication to the AOH, all in, right from the start.
“He’s one of our biggest fund-raisers for our charities. Whatever charity comes up and we need to raise money, he gives 200 percent. He’s loved by everyone. I don’t think he has an enemy in the world.”
When McGlinchey wrote his letter nominating McBride, he had no idea, of course, how it would all turn out. As McBride says, there are always other great candidates. “You never know.”
When McBride was selected, McGlinchey was probably just as pleased.
“I was ecstatic,” McGlinchey says. “A better man couldn’t have been selected.”