During the second half of the 1800s, more than two-and-a-half million Irish citizens immigrated to North America. My grandfather was one of them: Peter A. McLaughlin. As an eight-year-old boy from County Tyrone, Peter traveled with his father Michael, a farmer, and mother Mag, and his brothers and sisters to America with a thousand other immigrants in the steerage class of the “City of Rome” ship to arrive to Ellis Island on June 1st, 1896. They were bound for Chicago and to a new life.

I don’t know exactly why my Catholic farming ancestors decided to leave Ulster, in the North of Ireland, and emigrate to start a new life in America, but they had been fighting to survive invasions, famines, and oppressive landlords for a thousand years. With hope they saw America as a new promise.

Today, I want to honor all the people of Irish descent in California who worked and work hard to support their families and improve our state, while respecting also the rights of all Californians.

I extend a special appreciation to those who stood for social, economic and environmental justice over the years and to those who promoted and sustained Irish culture and language. Few have done it, to my knowledge, like San Francisco’s Brian Heron (1941-2011).

Brian Samuel Connolly Heron was born in Dublin, Ireland, the grandson of James Connolly, the hero of the Easter Rising in 1916. Brian was a true champion of workers’ rights. Here in San Francisco, he worked as a union organizer to help the exploited Chinese sweatshop workers. He worked alongside Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the United Farm Workers Movement, and with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Brian was nominated as Vice President of the Peace and Freedom Party, and helped organize the anti-war protest in Chicago in 1968 during the infamous Democratic National Convention. He was also a lifetime supporter of Native American rights, language, and cultural preservation. Brian was a founding member of the National Association for Irish Justice as well as the National Association for Irish Freedom, and founded the Center for Celtic Arts.

As we observe St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, let’s honor the legacy of Irish-American progressive patriots like Brian Heron, and let’s keep activating for a better California!

Paraphrasing James Joyce: “We are tomorrow what we establish today. Today we are what we established yesterday.”