Nancy Dearth loved just about anything Irish. So sure, she was a fan of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Atlantic City, the town where she was born — and formally baptized Frances Ireland — 88 years ago.
“St. Patrick’s Day was huge for her,” said Jenna DeCicco, of Somers Point, a granddaughter who gave a eulogy at the funeral of her “Mom-mom” last month. “We always did the parade on the Boardwalk. ... We’d meet at her house and all go up to watch the parade at Iowa Avenue.”
The parade is typically on the Saturday before March 17, the real St. Patrick’s Day — so this year’s version is today. The family had a post-parade tradition at Tony’s Baltimore Grill, which may not be Irish but is a popular spot in the Dearths’ Chelsea neighborhood. The Baltimore Grill is right around the corner from the family homestead on Denny Street, a half-block-long street off Iowa Avenue.
And despite her lifelong devotion to an island across the ocean, Nancy (her lifelong nickname) may have had one of the most local lives in local history. She didn’t just live her whole life in the same city, and the same neighborhood — she was actually born and died in the same house.
Her parents, Elias and Mary Ireland, raised their four kids in the three-bedroom, one-bath, attached house, said Louisa Dearth, of Margate, the wife of Nancy’s oldest son, John. And as Nancy, the youngest, was growing up, a big brother, Jim, also lived in the family home as he started raising his family.
But Nancy met Floyd Dearth, an Iowa boy stationed in Atlantic City in World War II, and they got married Jan. 23, 1945. She never could forget her wedding date — its shorthand is 1/23/45.
And Nancy just stayed in the Denny Street house, where she and Floyd raised their four kids — daughter Nancy, and sons John, Tom and Peter. (Floyd died in 1997, at 81. Tom was 60 when he died last year, a year and a day before his mother.)
Nancy and her family had a roommate in their little home for decades. Her mother, Mary, who immigrated from Ireland’s County Donegal at 18, never moved out of Denny Street until she died. She lived well into her 90s, the family said, and most of her family called her a name that was also hard to forget — Mother Ireland.
And the Ireland/Dearths were hardly the only people on their little street who saw St. Patrick’s Day as a national holiday.
“McLaughlins, McCleanes, Brennans, Gallaghers, McCabes,” said Louisa, Nancy’s daughter in law, listing neighbors’ names from over the years. “Kilcourses. McMeekins. Healds. Byrnes(es).”
And March 17, the actual St. Patrick’s Day, was basically a command performance for generations of Dearths on Denny Street. Anyone who could was expected to come home for dinner, and DeCicco, one of four grandchildren, said her Mom-mom would make an all-Irish menu, right down to a homemade version of the coconut and cinnamon candy called Irish potatoes.
There are now also four great-grandchildren who called Nancy GiGi — short for great-grandmother.
Among the neighbors, Nancy was famous for playing street hockey with her grandchildren and their friends — although she wasn’t always easy to recognize because, as steady goalie, she wore pads and a mask.
It probably wasn’t as widely known on her street that the Dearth home was also a great spot for TV-style wrestling matches.
“I realize now,” as DeCicco said in her eulogy, “that most kids didn’t have a grandmother who would clear out the contents of her dining room — including furniture, dishes and other breakables — to create a makeshift (professional) wrestling ring for her grandchildren to re-enact their favorite ... moves.”
The family has a whole lot more memories of their mother and Mom-mom and GiGi, and some of the best ones are built around her Irish side. There’s the story of Nancy’s niece and her husband, Mary Lou and Tony Panico, of Linwood, taking Nancy and Floyd with them on a vacation to Ireland about 25 years ago.
Nancy got to go to Donegal and visit where her mom — Mother Ireland — came from. That was the only time Nancy ever saw Ireland, but she talked about the trip for the rest of her life.
Still, for all her love of her roots across the ocean, she lived her life as an Atlantic City girl. Her family said they never even tried to talk her into moving out of Denny Street — because they knew she’d never listen.
Contact Martin DeAngelis: