by Peter Elliott
Jeff Meade has lived in his home on East Highland Avenue for almost 40 years.
On the lawn stands a single flag adorned with four-leaf clovers, and above the front door hangs St. Brigid’s Cross.
“I’ve lived here since 1981, which by Chestnut Hill standards means I’m a newcomer,” Meade said.
His home also serves as the headquarters for his website, irishphiladelphia.com. The website, which averages nearly 10,000 page views a month, covers events and groups across the Delaware Valley to provide people with a greater understanding and appreciation for Irish culture beyond the stereotypes of St. Patrick’s Day. The website also provides a calendar for upcoming Irish events in the Philadelphia area.
Meade, 67, originally started irishphiladelphia.com with his longtime work partner and friend Denise Foley back in 2006. They hoped to turn the content on their blog into a book titled “How to be Irish in Philadelphia,” but they realized they could write the book “a chapter at a time” through the website. Starting out, he and Denise worked to cover Irish events across Philadelphia and the surrounding Delaware Valley. They often covered as many as six to eight events every week on their blog.
“We started modestly, and it’s still modest in how it’s put together, but the biggest challenge was keeping up with all the events going on,” Meade said. “Four or five [events] was a light week, but we were both so jazzed and excited by it that it wasn’t work. It was a labor of love.”
Meade worked as a reporter for more than 15 years, including stints at the Public Spirit newspaper as a student at Temple University and the Bucks County Courier Times after he graduated from Temple in 1974. It was at the Public Spirit that he met Denise and, through working together, found they both shared a common interest in Irish culture.
“We were both interested in things Irish, especially me since I joined a bagpipe band as a drummer,” Meade said. “When you are in an Irish bagpipe band, you play a lot of Irish gigs, which helped me learned more about the Irish culture in Philadelphia.”
Meade would later spend 13 years working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropic healthcare organization and, after retiring from the foundation, writing as a freelancer for Einstein Healthcare Network.
“I worked my way through journalism school covering stories in Hatboro,” Meade said. “Even though I’ve done a lot of different things with it, I still consider myself a journalist.”
In 2016, Meade retired from working on the blog, unsure if he would return to his passion project. After fully retiring a couple months ago, he began working on the blog once more.
“Within the past several months I retired, and I knew I wanted to continue with irishphiladelphia.com,” Meade said. “Having a blog helps me feed my hobbies – feed all my interests at once.”
Today, Meade regularly posts content, including his own podcasts, to the website. Foley oversees the website’s social media aspects, including its Facebook page, which has close to 9,000 followers. Even with all the effort he puts into writing stories for the site, Meade believes in keeping his content free.
“One important point is that I don’t make a profit, and that’s intentional,” Meade said. “If I started thinking of it that way, then it would be work.
Through working on the blog and being a drummer in the Philadelphia Emerald Society Pipe Band, Meade has gained a great appreciation for Irish culture in Philadelphia. One of the most surprising things he learned is the presence of Gaelic sports in the Philadelphia area.
“The biggest eye-opener for me was Gaelic athletics,” Meade said.“I didn’t even know it was a thing [in America] but there is a big athletic community in this region, especially Delaware County and Hatboro.”
One such Gaelic sport is hurling, which Meade described as a combination of lacrosse, field hockey, baseball and “a little assault with a deadly weapon.”
“Some say it’s the fastest sport in the world, and having seen it, I believe it,” he said.
Meade was also surprised by the diversity of Irish Americans within the Philadelphia area. From interviewing a bartender in Upper Darby to covering Irish-Palestinian protests of Israeli intervention in the Gaza Strip, he enjoys the unpredictability of covering stories.
“It’s impossible to say what will come up,” Meade said. “You can’t predict it from one week to the next. It never gets boring.”
On March 17, honoring St. Patrick, millions of people across the country will celebrate with Irish songs, delicious food and plenty of beer. Meade, however, believes people should engage further with everything Irish culture has to offer beyond St. Patrick’s Day.
“One of the things I think about [are people] who are Irish one day a year, and I think that if you take a look at this blog on a regular basis, you can be Irish every day of the year,” Meade said. “And you’ll find a lot of it doesn’t have to do with stereotypes like binge drinking.”
Over Meade’s fireplace is a sign with the Gaelic phrase “céad mile fáilte,” which means “a hundred thousand welcomes.” For Meade, it is this welcoming nature that he appreciates most about the Irish people.
“People talk about the ‘gift of the gab,’ and these people do like to talk,” Meade said. “They are open and welcoming. Sometimes it feels like you can meet someone and become best friends.”
For more information about Irish culture and how you can get involved, visit irishphiladelphia.com or check it out on Facebook or Twitter. The “Tea with Irish Philly” podcasts are available on Spotify, iTunes, TuneIn and Stitcher.
Peter Elliott is a news intern who attends La Salle University.