The wearin' o' the green doesn't tell the half of it. In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, flutist Noel Rice, director of the Academy of Irish Music and president of the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago, recommends places to appreciate the formative influences and contributions that Irish-Americans have had on U.S. culture and history. He talks with Kathy Baruffi for USA TODAY.
Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village Dearborn, Mich.
"Henry Ford's accomplishments, which stand on their own, include this museum dedicated to American ideas and inventions that changed our world," Rice says. Ford, the son of an Irish immigrant, is, of course, best known as a giant in the auto industry and creator of the assembly line used in mass production. Visitors to the museum can sit on the Rosa Parks bus or see the presidential limo in which Kennedy was riding when he was assassinated. In addition to the vast automotive displays, there are exhibitions honoring other innovative geniuses — Thomas Edison's Menlo Park (N.J.) laboratory, for example, and the Wright brothers' home and bicycle shop. 800-835-5237; www.hfmgv.org
Irish Fest Center Milwaukee
"The Ward Irish Music Archives, the largest collection of Irish recorded music in the U.S., is here. You'll find sheet music and Irish instruments, too," Rice says. The center also sponsors a spirited four-day Irish cultural event (Aug. 14-17) with everything from Irish food to currach races (a currach is a canoe-like vessel). Order a corned beef Reuben Roll and your day will be complete. 414-476-3378; irishfest.com414-476-3378; irishfest.com
Old St. Patrick's Church Chicago
"The Chicago fire came within two blocks of this marvelous building, but didn't touch it," Rice says. "People flock from distant suburbs to join the well-attended parish. The freshly renovated interiors have intricate Celtic knots and other design motifs on the ceiling, walls and stained-glass windows." The church hosts a big summer bash, called Old St. Pat's World Largest Block party. 312-648-1021; oldstpats.org
Irish Hunger MemorialNew York City
This quarter-acre property in Battery Park City, complete with potato furrows and a two-room Irish stone cottage, memorializes the potato famine that began in 1845 in Ireland. A large family once lived in the cottage, brought here stone by stone from County Mayo. "Sited within view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, this poignant memorial represents the pestilence that reduced Ireland's population by half; 180,000 died directly and the rest just fled," Rice says. 212-417-2000; batteryparkcity.org
The Hermitage Nashville
"President Andrew Jackson had a different beginning than other presidents. He was a penniless orphan with a Scotch-Irish heritage that gave him a strong air of independence. His self-reliance was perfect for the frontier life he embraced here," Rice says. If Jackson walked into his onetime home on this 1,120-acre farm today, he would still recognize it, from his war memorabilia in the parlor to the many original furnishings. 615-889-2941; thehermitage.com
Margaret Mitchell House & Museum Atlanta
There's an emotional pull that draws people to the apartment where Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind. Visitors can see the front door of Tara and walk through Mitchell's old neighborhood on Peachtree Street. "She named the plantation Tara after the seat of the high kings of ancient Ireland," Rice says. Mitchell's ancestry was much like the fictional O'Hara's in Gone With the Wind: Her descendants were Irish and Scotch-Irish, and the family had many soldiers who fought in wars, revolutions and uprisings over the years. 404-249-7015; gwtw.org
Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives Butte, Mont.
"A large number of Irish came to Butte to work in the mines," Rice says. "Many of the copper kings were Irish, and the great buildings in the large historic district reflect their vision." An extensive collection of historic photos and documents can be viewed in the Archives. The World Museum of Mining also covers the Irish connection. Come for the St. Patrick's Day parade and celebrate the Edmonton Pipers' 25th anniversary of performing there. For the Archives: 406-782-3280 or buttearchives.org; for general information on Butte: 800-735-6814; mainstreetbutte.org
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & MuseumBoston
"Kennedy's achievements were a source of Irish pride on both sides of the ocean. For years, even in Ireland, there were two photos you'd commonly see hanging on the walls in homes: the pope and JFK. This museum illustrates connections to his Irish roots," Rice says. The Fitzgerald family Bible, used by JFK to take the oath of office, was brought from Ireland and has a handwritten chronicle of his 1917 birth. 866-535-1960; jfklibrary.org
Georgia O'Keeffe MuseumSanta Fe
"Georgia O'Keeffe's work embodies the open spaces, open attitude, open everything in America that is such a stark contrast to the closed society her forebears left behind," Rice says. This pueblo-style, adobe museum, billed as the first in the USA dedicated to a single female artist, often displays work of other modernist painters. 505-946-1000; okeeffemuseum.org
White House Visitor Center; Washington, D.C.
"Leinster House in Dublin, the duke's residence (and currently home to the Irish parliament), was architect James Hoban's inspiration for the White House," Rice says. "You can compare the buildings at an exhibit that opened this week at the visitor center celebrating Hoban and the building of the White House." The visitor center also displays china, furnishings and decorative objects from the White House, making it an easy alternative to the limited, post-9/11 access to the presidential mansion. 202-208-1631; whitehousehistory.org