Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Tom Lanigan is keeping Irish culture alive and well in Rhode Island and throughout New England and beyond.
The music he composes with The Tom Lanigan Band lets him share a piece of Ireland and pay respect to his native land, even though he hasn’t lived there in nearly two decades. He has called Warwick home since he and his family moved when Ireland’s economy took one of its periodic nosedives that left his father unemployed. Lanigan was just 16.
“My father ran a very successful video store back in the day, but with the economy the way it was, he had to close,” Lanigan said. “We had an uncle who moved here 10 years prior to that, so he sponsored my father to get a green card. It was initially for economic survival.”
These days, Lanigan is thriving playing guitar and singing. He recently began working on an album of original music, which he hopes to release soon. Tomorrow night, Lanigan and 16 other immigrants will be honored at the “My Story, Our Community” reception at Providence College in the St. Dominic Chapel Basement in Cunningham Square in Providence. The reception, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 5:30 p.m. and conclude at 7:30.
It is being hosted by Dorcas International Institute Rhode Island, a group that helps new immigrants make the transition to life here. Welcoming Rhode Island, an organization that advocates for immigrants, refugees and their families, is a co-sponsor. They celebrate how new Rhode Islanders contribute to the economy, enhance culture and strengthen communities.
Three advisory committees from throughout the state nominated people they felt had great stories about their journey to America.
Aside from Lanigan, they include another Warwick resident, Ricardo Reyes, who was raised in Acapulco, Mexico and moved to Cancun when he was 19, where he worked as a lifeguard and met and married Amy Turner and relocated to the Ocean State.
Reyes and his wife live in Warwick with their children. He works as an interpreter at Dorcas.
Others being honored include immigrants from Pakistan Argentina, Portugal, El Salvador, Columbia, Bolivia, Haiti and Cambodia.
For all of that, Lanigan won’t be there. He has a gig in New York, but he is pleased to be acknowledged and expressed his appreciation of Rhode Island and the United States.
“This country has been great to my family,” he said. “My father’s a very hardworking man and he was able to bring us to a place to work hard and have the simple things in life. He definitely provided that, and I can’t help but love the country for it.”
For Lanigan, having his father and mother move straight to Warwick from Dublin just before his senior year in high school wasn’t easy.
“Sixteen was a hard age to move,” he said. “It was a little bit of a culture shock, but I was fortunate. I was lucky to find a pretty close-knit group of friends fairly quickly.”
His sister Gráinne also graduated from Pilgrim and keeps Irish art alive with Damhsa, an Irish dance school at 400 Warwick Avenue.
“There is a great Irish culture in Rhode Island,” he said. “To think that we’re covering it here is a good feeling. I’m proud of that. I find people to be very tolerant of Irish immigration.”
Lanigan said he enjoys the atmosphere of Rhode Island, and has a special fondness for the ocean. He is also aware of homelessness and poverty but is confident those issue will be addressed.
He’s hoping music fans will visit him in Pawtucket tonight at Murphy’s Law Irish Pub located at 2 George Street.
“There are highs and lows – when it’s good, it’s good, but when it’s bad, it’s bad,” he said of his music career. “But it’s really rewarding.”
Learn more about Dorcas at diiri.org, and visit welcomingri.org for more information about Welcoming Rhode Island. Visit TomLanigan.com and find Tom on Facebook for a full list of shows.