The St. Patrick’s month schedule was busy for singer Raymond Coleman right up until March 16—and then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and the bottom fell out for Irish musicians everywhere.
Coleman had gigs scheduled as the clock wound down, with pubs, clubs and bars closing everywhere in the Delaware Valley and nearby.
On that last day, he recalls, the Jersey pubs were closing at 8 p.m., and he had a job scheduled at a bar in West Chester, but that was canceled.
At the last possible moment, someone called with a booking.
“The last gig was at the Holy City Publick House in Gloucester, N.J.,” he recalls. “They called me and said, ‘Do you want to play?’ I said, why not. I may as well get that last gig in before God knows when we’re going to be play again.
With the notable exception of those heroic souls who are working through the coronavirus pandemic—from health care professionals to cops and medics to grocery store clerks—all the rest of us are, or should be, keeping a safe distance from each other.
As a consequence of the need for physical distancing, millions have been laid off or furloughed from their jobs. Some people were hanging on by their fingernails as it was, before the outbreak. Now, those same people are—and there simply is no better word for it—desperate.
“We know that people normally have enough to get them through a couple of weeks, a month at most, says Emily Norton Ashinhurst, executive director of the Delaware County-based Irish Diaspora Center. “If you look at studies across America, the vast majority of people living in the United States don’t have enough to pay a $400 emergency expense. So that says, we’re living from paycheck to paycheck, and we recognize that losing that paycheck is going to be tough.”
In the case of the Philadelphia-area Irish community, many of those people aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance, government food assistance or other benefits because of the types of visas they hold—or simply because they are undocumented. They’ve slipped through the cracks.
The coronavirus pandemic has cost a lot of people their jobs and, therefore, their income. That’s had an impact on everything from mortgage and rent payments, utilities and loans to one extremely essential item: food.
People who never before needed to take advantage of the help of others suddenly find themselves struggling to keep their families fed.
Locally, the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick has long been known for its charitable endeavors. Now, they’ve established a Covid-19 relief fund, available to local Irish and Irish-American families fighting to keep body and soul together.
Friendly Sons President Ryan M. Heenan explains.
“Typically, our benevolence budget includes a lot of scholarships to local universities to help students travel to Ireland and things like that,” Heenan says, “but it became pretty apparent that a lot of those travel plans are going to be pretty restricted or canceled this year. So we made a conscious effort to dedicate those funds and continue to fund-raise toward the goal of food assistance.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, but nurses and other health care professionals are working hard, often to the point of mental and physical exhaustion, putting their own health at risk, as they do battle on the front lines of a coronavirus war.
There’s probably not a person who doesn’t appreciate their sacrifice and professionalism, but Lorilee Stearn, events manager for Paddy Whacks in Northeast Philly, is putting her appreciation into action.
Together with her family members—her husband, brother and three kids—she is putting together care packages for area nurses. Stearn, a local representative for a national health and wellness products firm, Arbonne, is putting together the ingredients for a refreshing respite, including energy and electrolyte hydration powders, packaged in little tubes, along with protein powder packs and protein bars. They seal them up in gallon-sized plastic bags, and they make them available to nurses from the surrounding area. Institutions so far include Pennsylvania Hospital, Jefferson-Torresdale, Cooper Echo Lab, Jefferson-Bucks, and the Philadelphia Industrial Correction Center.
Health care providers everywhere face a shortage of personal protective equipment—including masks.
A lot of people are stepping in to fill the breach with homemade masks, including Laurie McGarrity of Havertown, owner of The Hearth, a popular Irish eatery opened only six months ago.
She became aware of the dire need through contacts on social media, including a lot of nurses. McGarrity is a longtime crafter, so responding to the need was right up her alley.
“A lot of my nurse friends said on social media that they are reusing their masks, or they were running low,” McGarrity says. “So for me it was one of those things where, if you’re able to do it and you’re home anyway, you might as well help. I had all the supplies here, so I just figured I’d chip in and do whatever I could.”
Using patterns she found on the internet, McGarrity began sewing the masks early this week in a variety of brightly colored cotton re-washable fabric. The patterns were published by a health organization. Some masks are big enough to cover the preferred N95 masks, and others are smaller to fit the faces of nurses and other providers who have no masks at all.
Usually, the days and weeks surrounding St. Patrick’s Day are cause for great celebration and jubilation, all in the spirit of being Irish—even if you aren’t a drop of Irish. This time of year is also like Christmas for many local Irish pubs and musicians alike. Now, of course, it’s different. Countless watering holes are feeling the effects of closings and cancellations, as are many local musicians and bands who are losing income hand over fist due to canceled gigs.
Some acts, like John Byrne, Jamison, The Shantys and Oakwyn, offered live streaming concerts during St. Patrick’s Week, perhaps to maintain their own sanity and to help bolster the spirits of their fellow humans. Other Philly Irish musicians and bands followed suit, such as Ray Coleman, Neil Mac Thiarnan, Shelly Beard Santore, Brian Patrick McGuire, Shaun Durnin of Galway Guild, Bob Hurst of the Bogside Rogues, Joshua Mateleski of The Natterjacks, Mike LeCompt, Mike and Callie, Megan Glanz of The Natterjacks, Bill Donohue, Jr., Kevin Sullivan, Joe Mullin, and many others, who offered concerts on their various social media pages, with more shows scheduled as the week and quarantine continues.
The Dropkick Murphys, who we have covered extensively over the years, put on a free live streaming concert straight from their hometown of Boston. The two-hour event, filmed from what seemed to be a small club and offered via their website and social media accounts, boasted a steady rate of 130,000 viewers during the entire show. The rockers, some now in their 50s—as front man Ken Casey pointed out—were not short of energy or excitement, even in the absence of a live crowd.