It might have been hard to find a bowl of Irish stew or a plate of corned beef and cabbage in Tulsa three decades ago.
But that’s not the case anymore, said Tom Hinchey, one of the founders of the Irish-American Club of Tulsa.
When Hinchey moved here from New York in 1974, the St. Patrick’s Day revelry was minimal. He knew of only one Irish bar – Arnie’s on 15th Street.
“Years ago there was nothing here, and now there are several places to celebrate the holiday, eat Irish food and streets are even shut down,” Hinchey said. “It has become a big holiday in Tulsa.”
Irish culture has made an impact in America, but Americans have also had an influence on the way the Irish celebrate the holiday, Hinchey said.
St. Patrick’s Day began as a Catholic holiday honoring St. Patrick, one of the best-known patron saints of Ireland.
It’s also a feast day when the Irish enjoy all of their favorite foods. Potatoes are always on the menu, and dishes like colcannon (mashed potatoes and cabbage) and champ (mashed potatoes and green onions) are popular choices.
Instead of corned beef and cabbage, which is popular around St. Patrick’s Day in America, the Irish prefer Irish bacon and cabbage.
“The family gathers, and they go to church and have a big meal,” Hinchey said. “About 15 years ago, it was almost entirely a religious holiday. But now, they have started having the big parades just like we do.”
The Irish-American Club of Tulsa has a big dinner featuring Irish music and dancing every year around St. Patrick’s Day. But they also have events throughout the year, including Celtic concerts and Irish soda bread baking competitions.
“Some people make Irish soda bread with raisins, and some people make it with caraway seeds … some people make it with both. It depends how your grandparents did it. I am second generation. All four of my grandparents were from Ireland, and I prefer the raisins,” Hinchey said.
Virgil Tomes, a cook at Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow, prepares the food for the club’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and Show. He makes the hearty recipes for Irish stew and corned beef and cabbage from memory after many years of practice.
Tomes said that he veers from the traditional method of boiling corned beef. Instead, he seals it tight in a roasting pan, and it comes out perfect every time. Baking bags also work well to cook the meat in the oven.
Tomes, who is half Irish and half Cherokee, said he is happy to see that the Irish culture has grown so much since he moved to Tulsa 15 years ago.
“When I lived in Philadelphia, everyone had a shamrock in their window,” Tomes said.
So Tomes has brought that tradition to Tulsa and already has a shamrock in his window to show his Irish pride.