In south Buffalo, the streets are given traditional Irish names and covered in shamrocks. This is where Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor of the State of New York, found her beginnings.
Hochul, born Kathleen Courtney, is a descendant from a large Irish family from County Kerry.
Her father’s parents met in Chicago after arriving in America in 1919. Her grandparents happened to be from the same village in Kerry, though they met for the first time in the American Midwest. They moved to Buffalo, New York, where they married and began their family.
Hochul’s family immediately began establishing that city as a haven for the Irish.
“My grandparents helped start the first Buffalo Irish Center. They used to host guests and play Gaelic football. My dad and grandfather played on the team. They were so good, my father used to play on the national team here,” Hochul said, “He really took advantage of the experiences and had a chance to really talk about our Irish heritage a lot.”
Her father made sure to raise Hochul surrounded by Irish culture. Hochul says it made her recognize how fortunate it is that her grandparents, escaping poverty, were able to come to America and give their family better opportunities.
“That was a really formative part of who I am – that pride and that heritage. But also knowing it’s a responsibility for a lot of people left behind. Those of us whose families came to America were given a very special gift and opportunity. “
Hochul’s Irish heritage played a role in inspiring her to go into public service and government.
“My grandparents were very involved in social causes, my parents were involved in social causes,” said Hochul, “I think that Irish heritage and understanding what it’s like when you are the underdog. A lot Irish felt that, I think that’s partly why I look out for the underdog myself. “
Hochul explained how much public service meant to her family, especially her grandparents. She reminisced on her grandparents and their Buffalo home where her father was raised. She recalled a humorous story that showcased her grandparents opinions down to the T.
“Visiting my grandparents in their tiny home where they raised eight children, it had an effect on me. I would walk in the door and look into the living room and they were watching Walker Cronkite,” said Hochul, “On the wall, heading into their little kitchen, was a picture of Jesus right next to a picture of John Kennedy. They were equally positioned, one was not higher than the other.”
In her own life, Hochul tries to implement some form of Irish influence in her own family’s life. She has been to Kerry to find out more about her family’s humble beginnings, as well as to Dublin to learn more about the history of the country. Hochul cooks her family “Irish” meals so that they can experience some of the culture in the United States.
“I make what is an American version of an Irish dinner. Boiled corn beef, potatoes, and cabbage, carrots, and soda bread,” said Hochul, “When I go back to Ireland, they just kind of laugh. It’s not how they eat traditionally.”
Lieutenant Governor Hochul has experienced ties to Ireland in her government work. She has participated in a New York City event to comment the 1916 Rising and addressed leaders and ambassadors from Ireland who had been trying to bring peace in the country for decades.
Additionally, Hochul has tried to keep business strong between the state of New York and Ireland.
“We try to keep our trade relations strong. That’s what I try to do when I’m having meetings with the Consul General,” said Hochul.
“We talk about opportunities for Irish businesses to do work here and for New York businesses to have opportunities in Ireland.”
*This interview first appeared in the Irish Echo in 2019.