Columbus Irish: Growing Up Irish
by Molly Truex
With autumn in the air and a baby sitter in place, I donned a mask and going out clothes to head to Dempsey’s Food and Spirits (currently open during the week for lunch and weekends for breakfast #eatatdempseys) to speak with Mike Mentel about his forty years in the Columbus Irish community.
I worked for Mark and Megan Dempsey for two and half years waiting tables before our son was born, and the walk from the alley to the door was very familiar and missed. Since they had just opened for the day, the building was empty and quiet, and reminded me of my weekday breakfast shift.
I took a moment to say “Hi” to the picture of Mark that now hangs on the wall next to the beautiful historical bar and took a seat to wait for Mike. Being somewhat new to the Columbus Irish community (seven or so years) I was excited to talk with Mike and was thankful he took some time off his lunch and his run for the 10th District Court of Appeals to tell me a little bit of history and the changes that he’s seen take place in his time being active in our community. Mike’s great grandfather was the first of the family to immigrate from the Dublin, Ireland area to Ohio during the WWI era. He settled in to Flytown in Columbus, found work and started sending money back to Ireland for it to be possible for his wife and Mike’s grandmother to join him.
Most of the Irish in the area were around the Perry and 1st Avenue area and attended St. Francis Parrish. Some of Mike’s earliest memories are of the procession to Mass and marching in the parade with the general membership, before heading to his grandparent’s house to celebrate with all their Irish neighbors, listening to Carmel Quinn, Ruby Murray, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.
Keeping Tradition Alive
There was always a celebration of St. Patrick’s Day before it ever became ‘popular’, Mike said, remembering the Neil House dinners, and the gathering of family on March 17, a tradition he has kept alive in his family through the years. He’s not braggadocios about his Irish heritage, it’s more an acknowledgement; his law office holds some Irish memorabilia and he’s subtly left a sign someone put on his office door stating, “Irish Pride.”
“I don’t think it’s defining us once a year but it’s defining us 365 days a year. I see that here in Central Ohio.”
While working on City Council, Mike collaborated with the Police and Fire departments to recognize a member of each force for their contributions to the city and surrounding community. “…for the month of March I worked with our safety department, along with Police and Fire to come up with either a firefighter of Irish descent or a police officer of Irish descent to recognize them because of the culture and heritage of the Irish community being very involved and being the foundation of that. I was proud to have that go on and to this day that is still being done.”
Proclamation Day, from 1916 to Today
Along with these recognitions, Mike was also involved in making Proclamation Day in Columbus the ceremony that it is. “We always would have the Proclamation Day at City Hall, but I tried to bring more attention to it and tried to bring more, if you will, a ceremonial aspect to it than had been done in the past.”
Now, instead of only a few officers of the clubs standing around the Mayor’s office and them signing the proclamation of March 17 being St. Patrick’s Day in Columbus, now Proclamation Day is a longer presentation of the Irish community, including the charitable donations made by the AOH, LAOH, Shamrock Club, Greater Columbus Irish Cultural Foundation, Daughters of Erin and the Emerald Society, presentation of their officers and honorees, and performances by step dancers and the Pipe and Drums. To the Irish community, this is our day to celebrate our heritage before “everyone” comes out to party.
While St. Patrick’s Day has always been the focus of bringing family together and the celebration of Irish heritage, the Proclamation of 1916 has always held a very special spot in his heart, and Mike feels it is “among us.” “When you look at the proclamation, that was largely modeled after our Declaration of Independence, but actually improved, ‘Irish men and Irish women, in the name of God and of dead generations.’
“Irish men and women will have equal access and have all rights and privileges regardless of your religion and all religious freedom will be allowed. I celebrate it because, wow, how fantastic a document the Proclamation was with the fore thought that was put into it by Pearce and everyone. I don’t discount that celebration of the patron saint, but as far as something that talks about how we should look at each other because that’s how the Republic of Ireland looks at everyone there.”
Applauding how well the leadership in the Irish community has embraced this ideal, welcoming all that want to celebrate their heritage, or even just their appreciation of the Irish culture, Mike has high hopes for the future of the Irish community here in Columbus and will be here to support it as long as he is able.