In 1841 the population of Ireland was just over eight million and was expected to reach eight and a half million by 1851, but in 1845 a great famine began and Irishmen in the millions began to migrate to foreign lands. Many millions of these immigrants came to America and here they settled for better or worse.

The Irish who came to this country for the most part were laborers. Poor, uneducated and untrained, they were willing to work and work they did, in the coal mines in Pennsylvania, on the canals and docks in New York and Massachusetts. They built railroads and prospected for gold in Colorado and California. A goodly number became soldiers in the Union or the Confederate Armies. In time they became teachers, lawyers doctors, carpenters, prize fighters, baseball players, politicians, and all of the other professions common today. Through it all, they managed with customary Irish tenacity, fortitude, wit, and innate charm to laugh along with those who laughed at them. These immigrants and their offspring became the great grandparents and grandparents of most of us who are today Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, after World War II ended, another exodus took place. Out of cities into suburban America went returning veterans seeking the better way of life for themselves and their families. And so it was here in Old Bridge that so many descendants of the early Irish immigrants came together came together to live.

Having a common heritage tends to gravitate people together. This is doubly true for a race of people who possess a reputation for good humor and good fellowship; so it was only natural that in the daily pursuits of providing the means to raise their families, a group of local Irish gentlemen decided to get together. One member recalls, "I came home from work one night in January 1964, and, along with all of the bills received from the mailman that day, was a postcard inviting me to attend ‘The Organizational Meeting of the Friendly Sons of Shillelagh’, on Friday evening, 8:00 P.M. at 2 Clover Street, Old Bridge. Basically as Jack Dunphy and Harry Knox explained to the group that evening they  wanted to get an Irish group from Old Bridge together to march in the Newark St. Patrick’s Day Parade, in order to pay tribute to the Patron Saint of Ireland.

Now, as most Irishmen know, the St. Patrick’s Day Parades have been held in Boston as early as 1737, and in New York as early as 1762. On St. Patrick’s Day, most Americans turn Irish for a day and wear the green. This was the Irish tradition that the group wanted to perpetuate.

It was also agreed that invitations to a general meeting to explain the organization would be extended to selected individuals of Irish ancestry who were believed to be worthy of membership. So in February 1964, a meeting was held at Fred’s Turf (Dorian Manor) on Route 9, and forty men accepted the challenge and became charter members of the Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh.

On March 15, 1964, the organization marched in their first parade in Newark, and thereafter they met every month in the clubs and restaurants in Old Bridge (Madison Township). All the while, they dreamed of one day having their own place to meet. They kept the faith, and with the great courage, the leaders sought some property in Old Bridge and supported by the members, were able to acquire a site. Next a way was devised to obtain the funds necessary to purchase materials (the labor was free, it was a labor of love) sufficient to build the building, mortgage and all.

Source: 20th Year Mortgage Burning Adbook Journal

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