"Wisconsin State Journal" Book Feature
This book feature by Jay Rath appeared in the "Wisconsin State Journal" on March 13, 2008
Irish eyes: When it's St. Patrick's Day, we're all Irish. And ready for a parade.
On St. Patrick 's Day everyone is Irish, especially at Madison's parade of Emerald Isle pride. But in Wisconsin we're pretty Irish year-round, says one expert.
The annual parade will be the day before St. Patrick's Day, starting at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, on the Capitol Square. It's just one of many signs of the state's Irish heritage.
"The Irish in Wisconsin were able to retain many of their Irish traits longer than was possible in the big cities, " says David G. Holmes, historian and author of "Irish in Wisconsin, " published by the Wisconsin Historical Society.
In researching the book, "I was surprised to find that the Irish language and traditional Irish music survived a long time in many of those small Irish communities dotted throughout Wisconsin, " he says. "This may have been due to the fact that these Irish Wisconsinites did not have much contact with people outside of their small community. "
Madison has had St. Patrick 's Day parades at least as far back as 1912. This year 's is the 11th modern edition, sponsored by its own non-profit.
The parade will feature bands, dancers, pipers, leprechauns, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Sheriff David Mahoney, Police Chief Noble Wray, the 132nd Army Band, and Wisconsin State Journal columnist Melanie Conklin as grand marshal.
"Being grand marshal in our annual St. Pat 's Day parade is a dream gig for an Irish girl who was born and raised in Madison and has watched this parade from the sidelines for many years, " says Conklin. "Personally, I can 't think of a bigger home-town honor -- it 's even better than being elected mayor. "
The parade is very much a clan affair. Conklin 's daughter Rowan will be in the parade as part of her Irish dance school, and the parade 's Irish "family of the year, " Harry and Pat McCarthy, have been gathering their own extended brood.
"They are so excited about this is, " says Cheryl Sullivan, parade committee chair. "Basically Harry contacted every McCarthy in the phone book to invite them to join in. "
While it 's never fair to stereotype ethnic groups, just what is it about Irish and their love of parades?
"That is a completely accurate stereotype, " laughs Sullivan. "There are just hundreds of St. Patrick 's Day parades across the country. I just think it 's maybe more of a family event. And that 's why we have the clans marching. These people come out and march to just celebrate their families and the day. "
Irish settlement in Wisconsin began long before statehood. For example, Dublin native Henry Baird came to Green Bay in 1824 and became the state 's first attorney. In the 1840s and 1850s Irish immigrants founded settlements at Beloit, Fond du Lac, Sturgeon Bay and throughout LaCrosse and Trempeauleau counties.
"In many ways, I see the Irish people who settled in Wisconsin as having more of a frontier spirit ' than those who remained in the big cities, " says Holmes, who today works as a lawyer in Delaware.
Because the state 's Irish lived in relatively small communities they held onto tradition, he says. As a result, even though we may think of places like Chicago and Boston as displaying the strongest Irish influence in the United States, Wisconsin has maintained its own rich legacy.
"The largest Irish festival in the country is Irish Fest in Milwaukee, " he says. "Some of the premier scholars in the field of Irish studies -- not only in the United States but also in the world -- are located at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In my own experience, it was rather easy to find Irish language classes in Madison. Irish dancing and traditional Irish music were also prevalent at venues in Wisconsin.
"All in all, I can think of no more appropriate place to celebrate St. Patrick 's Day than in Wisconsin. "
Other Sunday events include:
The Shamrock Shuffle, a 5- and 10-kilometer run/walk benefiting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County; $25 or $30 entry fee; begins at 10 a.m. at the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State St.
An Irish flag-raising ceremony inside the Capitol rotunda at noon; free and open to the public.
A corned beef and cabbage meal, from noon to 2 p.m. at St. Patrick 's Catholic Church, 404 E. Main St.; $10 for adults, $5 for children, and $20 for families with two or more children.
Pre-parade activities from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Madison Children 's Museum, 100 State St.; admission $5, 1 year old and under free.
Traditional Celtic music and Irish dance by Rising Gael, Tairis, Westwind, Greenfyre, the Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance and the Trinity Academy of Irish Dance, from 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the High Noon Saloon, 701 E. Washington Ave.; must be 21 or older, $5 cover.
IF YOU GO
The 11th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade will begin at 1:30 p.m. Sunday on the Capitol Square. The parade route begins at corner of North Pinckney and East Mifflin streets, and continues clockwise around the square, exiting at East Washington Avenue.
The event is free and open to the public. Donations accepted. Parade proceeds benefit the University of Wisconsin Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center.