On St. Patrick’s Day in 1961, Irish Americans had much to celebrate. One of their own was in the White House. The culture of the Emerald Isle flourished in America, from the hurling field to the pipers’ band to the saloon, which LIFE magazine called the “nursery of democracy.” “No group,” LIFE wrote, “retains so boisterous a pride in its origins. A man four generations and 3,000 miles removed from the old sod may still say, ‘I’m Irish.'”
To recognize the accomplishments of the Irish in America, the magazine assigned photographer Robert W. Kelley to document the group’s impact on the nation for a special, two-part St. Patrick’s Day photo essay. Kelley trained his lens on sport and song, dance halls and pubs, capturing a cross-section of influence on culture and politics.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, TIME commissioned freelance photo editor Sanna Dullaway to colorize a short selection of Kelley’s images, bringing to life the photographs he made more than half a century ago.
Sanna Dullaway is a photo editor based in Sweden and the host of a new monthly column on TIME LightBox on colorized photography. See more of her work here.