This past Saturday, volunteers gathered at the Shamrock Food Distributors warehouse in Frankford to pack cars, minivans and trucks with heavy cardboard boxes, each one filled to the top with all the fixings for a Christmas dinner—turkey or ham, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, and more—and spread out across the city and, in many cases, well beyond, to deliver the food to needy families.
Mary Frances Fogg (a/k/a Frassee) tends bar at Paddy Whacks Irish Sports Pub, tucked away in a shopping center at Roosevelt Boulevard and Welsh Road in Northeast Philadelphia. She’s pretty much a fixture there at one of the best-known Irish pubs in the city, and she’s one of the most welcoming bartenders you’ll ever want to meet. She has a loyal clientele, and with her welcoming smile and gift for easy conversation, it’s easy to see why.
Frassee is also a member of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade Observance Association executive committee and a 2015 Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame honoree. It would be hard to think of anyone better known in the Philadelphia Irish community. When she’s not expertly pouring pint glasses of Guinness at Paddy Whacks, she also has a day job: director of Government Relations and Special Projects at the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.
They say if you want to get something done, ask the busiest person.
That summed up the beloved Liam Hegarty, as one longtime friend put it. Hegarty is well-known for serving on the board of the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia and in various leadership roles for the Delaware County (Delco) Gaels, the Gaelic Athletic Association locally and nationally, Irish Network-Philadelphia, and the Irish American Business Chamber and Network—but his influence and rampant creativity touched many other organizations and, say those who knew him best, made them better.
Hegarty, of West Chester, born in Ednamuck, Mountcharles, County Donegal, passed away suddenly earlier this week. Born October 10, 1967, he was just 51. His untimely death leaves many trying to imagine what life will be like without his friendship and dedication.
“He really was a visionary,” says his friend of 30 years, Tom Higgins, who played with Hegarty for the Donegal football club and served on many boards with him, from the Immigration Center to the Delco Gaels. “This whole youth sports organization is basically his design, not just in Philadelphia but around the country. The Liberty Bell championships, which happen a week before the annual Continental Youth Championships for mainly teams on the East Coast—that’s all Liam too. His idea.”
We met up with JohnJoe Devlin, pretty much a fixture at Plough & Stars, a busy, well-known gastropub on Second Street between Market and Chestnut in Old City Philadelphia. If you’re looking for a friendly face and a charming accent behind the bar—he’s from Scotland but from Irish stock, he says—Devlin fits that description to a T.
Pearse Kerr has all the qualities of a great storyteller: pace and timing; a skill for voices and dialects; a ready laugh that shakes a room.
But most of all, he has stories.
They’re the stories of a young boy who witnessed his first violent death when he was 12 and living in Belfast. He and his family were leaving his grandmother’s house when they saw a British Army foot patrol approaching up the road. In Belfast in the 1970s, it wasn’t an unusual sight. “We were watching them,” he says, “when someone jumped out at them with a handgun and shot one in the back of the head.”
Known fondly to many as the “dancing nun,” Sister James Anne, IHM, born Nancy Feerick, is the daughter of Irish immigrants Anne (Caulfield) and James Feerick. She started Irish dancing when she was 7, studying with Sean Lavery School of Irish Dance in West Philadelphia for more than 10 years. She also played the violin, performing on the Will Regan’s Irish Hours, a long-running radio show that debuted before World War II on Philadelphia’s WDAS station. She also served as secretary of the old Irish Musicians Union in Southwest Philadelphia for two years.
Her home was always filled with music, recalls Helen DeGrand, who first convinced Sister James Anne to join the Mayo Association of Philadelphia, where Sister James Anne has served as chaplain for 20 years. “When I first came to this country from Ireland in 1968, some of the first people I met were the Feericks” says Mrs. DeGrand. “They were the party people. She was in the convent then, but [her brother] Jim would be playing the piano and [her brother] Mike would be playing the fiddle. We used to go to the Shamrock Club every weekend and we always saw them at some point.”
On Sunday, November 18, 2018, when Sister Frances Kirk, SSJ, is honored by the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, it will be for a lifetime devoted to education and service. But it was as chairperson and organizer of Project Children for over 30 years that she was able to make an extraordinary impact on the lives of thousands of children in both the United States and Ireland.
Born in 1932 in Northeast Philadelphia to parents Frank Joseph Kirk and Elizabeth Rose “Lizzie” Falls, who had come over from County Tyrone in the early 1920s, Sister Frances has always embraced her Irish heritage. Nine of the 14 siblings in her mother’s family left their village of Glenelly Valley to make Philadelphia their home, but they kept in close touch with the ones who stayed behind. “Letters, letters, letters,” Sister Frances explained. “And money, money, money. Every letter had to have a five pound note in it. There was no money at home.”
The oldest of the five siblings in her own family, Sister Frances came to the convent at age 19. Though she took a year off after graduating high school to work, she had no doubt that her life would be devoted to the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Those were words spoken to Denise Foley—in a good way!—back in 2015 in the middle of her dedicated campaign on the Irish Philadelphia Facebook page to raise money for the Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center in Mount Airy. The Irish Center was looking at thousands of dollars in repairs and back taxes, and as part of the group that had come together to make sure the doors of the center didn’t close, Denise was going to make sure they succeeded.
And succeed they did, raising over $83,000. For Denise, the triumph was as much in how they did it as in the fact that they did it. “This was another case where it was just a great group of people. Everybody did everything they could, everybody was 100 percent behind raising this money. And this was hundreds of people giving $10, $20 … all these people working together for something.”