In America, the history of police and fire department Emerald Societies is relatively short, in comparison to the history of the Irish immigration. In the early days of America, the Irish were not always welcome. They were the first ethnic group to live in the slums of the larger cities. They were also the first ethnic group to be discriminated against in their search for jobs. The Irish were mainly limited to low paying, hard labor jobs.
Two professions that the Irish immigrants were drawn to were: police officers and firefighters. Both of these careers were considered undesirable due to low pay, few benefits, and poor working conditions. The Irish gladly took roles in these professions because it was a way to become a part of mainstream America , and it was a way to give back to their new country. By the early 20th century, the Irish were not only immersed in the police and fire departments, but they were in charge of them. The Irish transformed the job of night watchman and fire watch into the organized police and fire departments of today.
Over the years, the Irish started many of the traditions that are still in existence today. The Irish-American police officers and firefighters would march in full uniform at various parades, including the St. Patrick's Day parade. These men were very proud of their Irish heritage, and equally proud of being a police officer or firefighter.
The public perception of the Irish cop or firefighter in the neighborhood was more than a stereotype; it was a fact. Up to the mid 20th century, the Irish dominated the police and fire departments. These departments were largely made up of Irish born or 1st or 2nd generation Irish. The Irish produced more chiefs of police and fire departments than any other ethnic group in America . In order to celebrate the Irish identity and heritage, the Irish members began to form a cultural brotherhood among its memberships.
In 1953, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) formed the first Emerald Society within an American fire department. The society was formed to help foster the spirit of the heritage within its members and to promote and preserve their accomplishments. In the last half of the 20 th century, there has been the growth of hundreds of Emerald Societies across America .
Since its humble beginnings more than 50 years ago, the Emerald Society movement has reached new heights. The Irish have a long and proud history of public safety professions. A glance through the rosters of any fire department in America will be filled with Irish names. Unfortunately, so will the walls dedicated to the men and women who gave their lives in the service of the fire profession. The Emerald Society is here to preserve that legacy!
Thanks to Patrick F. O'Brien of the Nevada Emerald Society