We’re still not quite finished with this year’s St. Patrick’s Day experience in Philadelphia.
We’ve had many requests for the speech that Kathy McGee Burns, President of the Irish Memorial and Grand Marshal of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, gave at The Memorial (located at Front and Chestnut Streets) on March 17th. So here is the video, and the transcript, of her eloquent expression of not only the story of her Irish family’s experience, but the experience of so many who left their homeland for a better life. And found it.
ST. PATRICK’S DAY SPEECH AT THE IRISH MEMORIAL, BY KATHY MCGEE BURNS, MARCH 17, 2015
“Good afternoon. As you know, I’m Kathy McGee Burns, President of the Irish Memorial, and I’m grateful to be giving this speech because as we all gaze upon this beautiful monument, it tells a story. The story I’m going to tell you is of my family; but it could be any one of your families. That monument depicts many aspects of the Irish.
My great-great grandparents, Cornelius and Kate McGee had six children. Four of them were forced out of Ireland. They all lived in Gweedore, County Donegal, and the McGees were tenants on their own land, forced to pay high rents. That is because the landlord really wanted the land for the grazing of his high-bred English and Scottish lambs and sheep. We were in the way. They thought more of their sheep than our people. So their son, Thomas McGee, got on one of those ships and headed to the Port of Philadelphia. His people were miners and railroaders and servants, but the result of their tenacity and their Irish spirit is part of the fiber of Philadelphia.
They were the builders of St. Malachy’s in North Philadelphia. That’s where Irish children were educated by the Sisters of Mercy. One of those children was my grandmother, Mary Josephine Callahan. Religion was one of the stepping stones to Irish success in Philadelphia; through the nuns and priests who educated us, to the bishops and the cardinals and the parish system which was a powerful builder of Irish success.
Well, Mary Jo and her husband Hugh McGee had a son, Timothy, my father. He was brought up in Swampoodle and I bet if I took a chance, many of you here were from Swampoodle. He graduated from Roman Catholic High School, went to work for the ‘Ac-a-me’ and then started his own business. He was highly successful.
The Irish built these cities through their unions, their bricklayers, their builders, their electricians, the operating engineers, the McCloskeys and the Kellys.
Tim McGee, my father, had four children. He made sure we were educated. Each one of us have graduate degrees. And I am proudly married to an operating engineer. The Irish have gained power by their involvement in the law. They were firemen, policemen, attorneys, politicians and judges. Well, the great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius McGee is none other than my own daughter, the Honorable Kelly Wall, who became a judge.
So this is what The Irish Memorial is to all of us, given an opportunity in this world, this city. It represents the hardships, the ‘Irish Need Not Applies,’ the many avenues of Irish Philadelphia education—Villanova, St. Joe’s, my own school, Chestnut Hill College. It represents Boathouse Row and the lighting of Philadelphia by the electricians’ union. So we owe our love and respect to our ancestors, and a huge thank you to those who conceived the plan and raised the money and built what is known as the most beautiful monument in the world to honor ‘An Gorta Mor.’
And I salute my ancestors. Thank you”