Fresh Eire

Phil O'Goodstein will paint a picture of Denver's Irish.

When local historian and native nice Jewish boy Phil Goodstein steps up to the podium at the Mercury Cafe this Friday evening to speak on Blarney! Denver¹s Wild Irish Heritage, it'll be as Phil O'Goodstein. Or, in fact, that's "Oy Goodstein," an honorary appellative he'll enhance with a fake Irish accent and, granted, with a wealth of rich knowledge about his timely subject.

"When it was time to come over from the old country, my great-grandmother heard about a special discount on travel to America. But instead, she was let off on a beautiful green island -- she thinks she's in America but finds out she's actually been dumped off in Ireland, and she starts crying, 'Oy, oy, oy!' So the Irish called her 'Oy Goodstein!'"

However he became an expert on the topic, Goodstein promises a far more authentic Irish experience than the one you'll have at, say, Saturday's official St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Denver. "There's nothing Irish about it," he says. "There are high school bands, Shriners, radio stations, bars and community groups, but there are no Friends of St. Brendan. And the music is all rock and roll; there are no ballads of 'The Rising of the Moon.'"

That's not surprising, considering that when the tradition of a St. Patty's Day parade was resurrected here in 1962, it occurred on April 17. "Well," Goodstein begins, in a mock brogue, "the Lord Mayor of Dublin was visiting in April. So, they all went to Duffy's, and they all took a walk around the block."

To be fair, the parade this year will feature a brigade of Denver's Irish-American police officers and firefighters, marching under the banner of the Colorado Emerald Society, in a show of what Goodstein admits is a realistic portrait of the city's Irish presence: "There never really was that much of an Irish machine in Denver," he notes, but the Irish were well-represented in the police and fire departments, especially by a certain John F. Healey, who ruled Denver's fire department from 1912 until 1945 and helped put the kibosh on the strong Ku Klux Klan presence in Colorado.

"The Irish Catholics, as much as anybody, managed to stalemate the Klan," Goodstein explains. "They were the Klan's number-one target, as well." And was Healey's contribution a matter of cause or effect? "It was more of a dialectical relationship: The overwhelming bulk of the fire department was Irish, and, at one point, they were all going to be fired so that Klansmen could get their jobs. So Healey said they'd have to carry him out of his office." (And was Healey a big man? "Well, he has a hefty grave over at Mt. Olivet Cemetery," Goodstein alleges.) "He decided to tell the national fire-insurance industry how they were going to fire all the professional Irish firefighters and hire a bunch of guys who only knew how to burn crosses, and that's the turning point when the Klan bubble was pricked."

Goodstein assures there'll be other colorful characters you'll meet Friday night, such as Father Joseph Carrigan, a "leading Irish cleric who was excommunicated for being too Irish," and Owen J. Goldrick, a schoolteacher and librarian who not only opened the first school in Denver, but also established the fledgling city's first "alternative" newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Herald: "He didn't like the Rocky [Mountain News] and thought we needed an alternative," Goodstein says. "He should be the patron saint of Westword." He'll talk about the Denver-based branch of the Fenians, a political movement determined to win Ireland back from the British, and entertain with tales of Oscar Wilde's adventures as a lecturer in Leadville.

And add one more colorful character: Phil O'Goodstein himself. "Actually, instead of being a son of the old sod," he confides, "I'm really just a son of old East Colfax Avenue." McMazel tov.

 
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