Do you know where your family came from? One important role for an older adult is preserving his or her family’s history and cultural heritage for younger generations. Culture is often expressed through traditions, customs, and rituals, both within the family and the community. It is important to take pride in one’s own culture and heritage as well as appreciate the uniqueness of others. America is a melting pot – a nation of immigrants. There are people of many diverse cultures. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Brainstorm the meaning of the words ancestor, heritage, and culture with your group.
  • Ask participants to share the country their ancestors originally came from.
  • Talk about childhood traditions and customs in the home and community.
  • Consider music, dance, food, art, recreation, clothing, language spoken, stories, poems, or folktales. Sharing family stories and memories helps preserve America’s rich cultural heritage.

Make it a goal of your activities program to explore other countries/cultures. March is a good time to begin, by celebrating Irish-American heritage month with your group. Today, the U.S. is home to millions of Irish-Americans. Some members of your group may have family ties to Ireland. The rich traditions of Irish folk have long been embraced as part of our cultural heritage. Take, for example, St. Patrick’s Day on March 17. There are many activities and traditions associated with the celebration. Ask your group members: How did your family celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? How did your community observe the occasion? Were there lively parades, wearing of green clothing, the drinking of green beer, special foods such as corned beef and cabbage or a potato dish, singing of Irish folk songs, or dancing an Irish “jig”?


Need more ideas for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and Irish-American traditions and customs? Try some of our suggestions listed below.

  • Find some old Irish recipes such as Irish soda bread and Irish potato candy and make them with your group.
  • Discuss Irish proverbs, blessings, and sayings. Examples: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander; it’s no use boiling your cabbage twice; the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune; a silent mouth is sweet to hear.
  • Explore the legend of Saint Patrick. What impact did he have on the Irish people?
  • Chat about early Irish immigrants to the U.S. in the 19th century. What brought them here during the mid-1800s and what challenges did they face? Ask your participants if they had immigrant ancestors who worked on building the transcontinental railroad.
  • Talk about the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the United States held in Boston in 1737. Make an assortment of Irish decorations and cards to commemorate the celebration.
  • Invite an Irishman to talk about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Old Ireland. How has the meaning of the holiday changed over the years in Ireland?
  • President George Bush proclaimed March as Irish-American Heritage Month in 1991. Read an excerpt from his proclamation.
  • Watch the 1952 movie The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The romantic comedy, directed by John Ford, was filmed mostly on location in Ireland.
  • Read some excerpts from works by award-winning Irish writers such as George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, or Samuel Beckett.
  • Ask your group to list common Irish surnames such as Brennan, Kelly, or Sullivan.
  • Demonstrate some traditional Irish dance steps such as the jig, reel, or hornpipe.
  • Play some traditional Irish instruments such as harp, accordion, fiddle, flute, or harmonica.
  • Invite a storyteller to present some Irish folktales to your group. How do the tales reflect the values and beliefs of the Irish people? Talk about symbols common to Irish folktales (e.g., leprechauns and shamrocks).
  • Highlight some popular sports in Ireland such as rugby, Gaelic football, hurling, boxing, greyhound racing, and horse racing.
  • Show pictures of some ancient castles in Ireland (e.g., Blarney Castle, Dublin Castle, Rock of Cashel, Kilkenny Castle). Explore their history and architecture.
  • Examine the legacy of American presidents with Irish ancestors (e.g., Kennedy, Reagan, and Nixon).
  • Wear a green shamrock leaf (for good luck).
  • Ireland is famed for its lush green landscape and friendly people. Look up Ireland in an atlas or globe. Talk about its geography and climate. Brainstorm images associated with the country of Ireland. Pass around souvenir postcards of Ireland for your group to view.
  • Treat your group to a shamrock shake (vanilla ice cream, milk, a touch of mint flavoring, and green food coloring) and shamrock-shaped cookies.


How well does your group know the Ireland? Challenge participants with this quiz.

  1. The island of Ireland is divided into two countries. What are they? Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
  2. What is the capital of the Republic of Ireland? Dublin
  3. What is the capital of Northern Ireland? Belfast
  4. What is the longest river in Ireland? River Shannon
  5. Which Irish city is known for its beautiful crystal? Waterford
  6. What is the religion of the majority of the people in Ireland? Roman Catholic
  7. What event in Ireland led millions of its citizens to immigrate to America in the late 1840s? The Great Potato Famine
  8. Which ocean borders Ireland on the north, south, and west? Atlantic
  9. What is the nearest continent to Ireland? Europe
  10. Which colors appear on the Irish flag? Green, white, and orange


The old Irish saying, “You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind,” highlights the importance of opportunity. If you’ve set new goals for your activities program, now is the time to take action.

“IRISH-AMERICANS” written by Sue Hansen. © 2005 ElderSong Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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