Columbus Irish – A Conversation with Mary Grady Strickland
By: Maureen Ginley
On St. Patrick’s Day in 1979, Mary Grady Strickland and the Daughters of Erin (an Irish women’s organization she was pivotal in forming) swung open the door to St. Patrick’s Church and were met with a sea of green. While the day always began with Mass, there was an air of excitement for this group.
It was 73 degrees and sunny; the first two rows of pews were reserved for them. Months after the group’s inception, they were celebrating one of the most wonderful days of the year, surrounded by the people and community they loved.
This sense of exhilaration is a hallmark of Mary’s personality. When I met her at the Dublin Irish Festival (albeit briefly when I signed up to be a member), I could tell how excited she was to be a part of the Columbus Irish community.
I had stopped by the Shamrock Club’s booth to look into possible membership, because I’d be moving to Central Ohio a week later. As I filled out my paperwork, I was introduced to Mary (the Club’s President at the time) as “the Shamrock Club’s newest member!” Without missing a beat, she happily shook my hand and welcomed me to a community that would grow to be an important part of my life in Columbus.
Mary is only the second female President in the history of the Shamrock Club. Upon learning this information, I knew I had to talk to her for the Ohio Irish American News. After a few months of emailing back and forth, we were finally able to meet up and talk about her experiences as an Irish American woman living and celebrating her heritage in Ohio’s capital city. Our conversation was enlightening, and it showed me a lot about what I can do as a young woman who is passionate about Irish music, literature, culture, and community.
I learned a lot of interesting information about and from Mary, including (but not limited to):
- Her family has a rich history at the Shamrock Club and within the Columbus Irish Community as a whole.
In 1992, her brother Michael served as President of the Shamrock Club. When she was sworn in as the Club’s President, her family participated – making a special moment even more memorable. She grew up hearing stories of her grandparents’ lives in Ireland, and she spent time listening to and enjoying Irish music. Wanting an opportunity for Irish women in Columbus to celebrate their heritage, she founded the Daughters of Erin; this group not only allows this celebration to occur, its members also give of their time and talents to make Central Ohio a better place.
- One of her favorite St. Patrick’s Day memories is when she opened the doors of St. Patrick’s Church on 03/17/1979 and sat in the front with the group she helped form.
Getting an organization off the ground is no easy feat. The Daughters of Erin had come to fruition months before. As I spoke with Mary about this day, I could sense the pride she had in seeing her group’s hard work pay off.
- She is a wealth of advice for Irish folk all around Ohio.
One of the last questions I asked Mary when we sat down to chat was what advice she had for young, Irish folk – particularly women – in Ohio. I was (and still am) so impressed with her involvement with the DOE and the Shamrock Club, and I was eager to see what wisdom she could impart on those looking to see themselves reach similar roles. While she shared a lot of tips and tricks for truly embracing the Irish life experience in Columbus, one of the things she said stuck with me even more, and I find myself thinking about it every time I leave the Shamrock Club, chat with one of my friends who I met through the Ohio Rose Centre, or attend another event where the Irish gather. “You’re cheating yourself if you don’t share it with people.”
In this situation, the “it” is our shared Irish heritage. Mary encouraged me – and hopefully by extension, others – to truly embrace the nights at the pub, the opportunities to serve our communities, the festivals, the feiseanna. By fully throwing ourselves into these experiences, we can learn so much about ourselves, our Irish brothers and sisters, and the diaspora around the globe that connects us together as one, big community.
My life would be much, much different if I didn’t approach the Shamrock Club’s booth at the Dublin Irish Festival last summer. I had thought about waiting until I settled into my new life in Columbus before reaching out to different organizations I was interested in getting involved with. I am so glad I didn’t.
As I filled out my membership application on that hot summer day, I was taking Mary’s advice before I had even heard it. I was taking the first steps necessary to share my Irish heritage with the community in the city I now call home. I cannot wait to see where that decision takes me in the days, months, and years to come.