New Ulm’s Irish Mark 50 Years of St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations

March 15, 2015

By Kevin Sweeney – Journal Editor, © The Journal

NEW ULM – For the past 50 years the Irish in New Ulm have celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a parade on March 17, a dinner and entertainment afterwards, and for many years a preview story that presents a few facts surrounded by heavy layers of Blarney, provided by the late Bill O’Connor, the city’s official Blarneymeister.

This year, in honor of the 50th year of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, the Irish Cultural Society of New Ulm will be holding a host of real, honest-to-goodness events that will ACTUALLY TAKE PLACE! The Journal asks those who read these articles for the Blarney to bear with us. There are a lot of facts to list before we get to the Blarney.

The parade is being held, as always, on Tuesday, March 17, at 5 p.m., starting in front of Terry Dempsey’s house at 309 S. Minnesota Street and proceeding the wrong way up Minnesota Street to the Glockenspiel. This year the Irish will have a Father-Daughter Grand Marshal and Irish Queen combination, with Pat Kearney the Grand Marshal and his daughter Emma as the Irish Queen.

The Gathering of the Clans Banquet will held after the parade at Don and Jan’s Pub (known most of the year as the Kaiserhoff). The parade this year will include the Macalester College Bagpipe Band. Anyone and everyone is invited to march in the parade.

And this year, as a special bonus, The Great Irish Fair of New Ulm will be held on Saturday, March 14, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Conference Center. An Artisan and Vendors Market will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with Irish food served all day. At 9:30 a.m. professional storyteller Pati Kachel will tell Irish tales and other blarney. At 10 a.m. an Arts and Coffee Party with State Rep. Paul Torkelson will be held.

At 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. the O’Shea Irish Dancers, an award winning step dancing school founded by Riverdance dancers, will perform.

At 2:30 p.m. an Irish Quilt Bed Turning will be put on by the Prairie Piecemakers Quilting Guild. There will also be Irish stories and art activities for kids at 2:30 p.m. Irish scones and tea will be available for $5.

From 5 to 7 p.m., Irish Folk Musicians Charlie Heymann and Chad McAnally will perform. There will also be Irish Beer and Bacon Flights, pairing three different Irish beers with gourmet bacons, will be available for $10 from the Green Mill Restaurant.

Further Information about the events Saturday and the parade on Tuesday are available at www.newulmblarney.com

Those are the facts.

Now, on to the Blarney. Readers should believe anything from here on out at their own risk.

Parade co-chairs Tom Donnelly, Terry Dempsey and Mary O’Connor visited with The Journal recently to tell how the parade got started. Donnelly, Dempsey and Bill O’Connor, three Irish lawyers living in New Ulm, had decided there should be a parade to show that there is more than just Germans in New Ulm. “We wanted to have the parade so the Irish could show we are members of the community, and that anyone can join us.”

Donnelly said the parade has always been open to Germans and other nationalities. “Our first grand marshal was Al Eibner, (owner of Eibner’s Restaurant) and our second was Phil Frisch. I forget who the third one was….”

Mary O’Connor said the notion of an Irish parade in New Ulm drew statewide attention. St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Gareth Hiebert, who wrote the “Oliver Towne” column, penned a column wondering who these “Auslanders” were to be putting on a parade.

The original parade was held in 1965. The next year, Minneapolis and St. Paul started their parades, making the New Ulm parade the longest continuous celebration in the state.

Of course, this is also the 35th anniversary of the year an Irish wannabe, Don Brand, “saved” the parade, as he likes to put it.

Donnelly said that he and Bill O’Connor were both in the hospital in 1980 as St. Patrick’s Day approached, and Dempsey was busy as a member of the Legislature in St. Paul. “That was two acts of God and an act of the GOP,” said Donnelly.

No one took over the job of organizing the parade until Brand, then working as a news reporter and announcer with KNUJ, realized there was no parade. He rushed down to City Hall on March 17 and got a parade license, and announced on the radio that the parade would go on, which it did.

Brand has been boasting about it ever since, said Dempsey. “He says he still has the receipt for the parade license, but we’re still not going to reimburse him,” Dempsey said.

To honor Brand for his actions in saving the parade, the Irish will present him with a special “What Have You Done For Us Lately?” award. It will be inscribed, “Thanks for saving the parade, Don. Now shut up about it already!”

Don Brand will also receive a special version of the coveted Done Nothing award, a lifetime unachievement award. This is in recognition of him saving the parade in 1980 and having done nothing since. The committee has also turned down Brand’s request to nominate himself to be Parade Marshal (for the third time).

Mayor Bob Beussman will also receive the Done Nothing Award for stating that New Ulm would have a four-lane Highway 14 between Mankato and New Ulm by the 50th St. Patrick’s Day celebration and failing to come through. He is now shooting for the 60th celebration.

Mayor Beussman has also been put in charge of the new ZeroK Run/Walk. He thinks he has a good chance of winning.

The Irish have noted several prominent local citizens have retired this year. Terry Sveine retired from the Chamber of Commerce, and he has agreed to pose for the statue of St. Patrick. The Irish thank the City for tearing down the Hermann Heights water tower, clearing a perfect spot for St. Patrick’s Statue, looking down on Hermann.

Speaking of Sveine, members of the committee noted he is the only former altar boy to have streaked Heritagefest.

Former City Attorney Hugh Nierengarten has also retired, earning him a special plaque from the Irish thanking him for doing more than anyone else this year to improve the quality of city government by his retirement.

A wide range of other activities will take place during the day. A Bowling Ball Juggling contest will take place in German Park. The traditional Rope Pushing Contest will also be held in German Park, with several hundred contestants expected. The top rope pushers of the past 50 years have been invited to participate, and there are several three generation teams of rope pushers expected to attend.

The third annual Sauerkraut Burying Contest will be held in German Park after the bowling ball juggling. The event may be moved at the last minute, because the MPCA is investigating it for possible pollution violations.

The Irish are also forming a new partnership with the Brown County Humane Society, which will cooperate in putting on a new event, a Cat Herding Contest at the New Ulm Civic Center. The first-place winner will receive a six-pack of Schell’s Beer. The second-place winner gets two six packs.

Tom Schmitz from the Park and Rec Department has asked the city to increase the tax levy to fund a new zip line from the Hermann Monument down to German Park. He figures this will be cheaper than putting in a water park, and the Germans can use it to hang out their dirty laundry at Fasching.

And finally, in honor of the 50th year of the St. Patrick’s Celebration, the theme of the event will be the late Bill O’Connor’s favorite: “You Can Always Tell a German, But You Can’t Tell Him Much.”

Don Brand

This is also the 35th anniversary of the year an Irish wannabe, Don Brand, “saved” the parade, as he likes to put it. To honor Brand for his actions in saving the parade, the Irish will present him with a special “What Have You Done For Us Lately?” award. It will be inscribed, “Thanks for saving the parade, Don. Now shut up about it already!”