It Hasn’t Always Been Easy Being Green

50th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade to Hit the Streets

New Ulm – Three Irish attorneys walk into a German bar. The bartender turns to them, takes one look, and says, “What is this – some kind of joke?”

Many may have thought the same thing when Irish attorneys Terry Dempsey, Tom Donnelly and the late Bill O’Connor walked into Veigel’s Kaiserhoff one fateful day in 1966. Conversation soon drifted from law and politics to the conception of an Irish parade. This is an era of minorities, they agreed, and every clan shall have its day, even in New Ulm, Minnesota, a town that boasts a 65% German ancestry population, more per capita than any other city in the U.S.

So began the New Ulm St. Patrick’s Day Parade – the oldest, continuous Irish parade in the state. “We are fortunate to live in a southern climate and have never had a blizzard on that day in 49 years,” Donnelly said of the parade that steps off at 5 pm on March 17. As custom, the parade route begins at 3rd South and Minnesota Streets and proceeds the wrong way, up one-way Minnesota Street to its conclusion at the Glockenspiel.

“For years, instead of having the parade go down the street by the crowds we were going to have the parade stand stationary and have the crowd walk around it,” the late O’Connor is quoted as stating. “But we’ve practiced it and these Germans can’t walk in the same direction.”

The parade has grown slowly over the past 50 years starting with about 20 participants, hand-made signs about being Irish and a length of one block to now include Irish dancers, Grace O’Malley, St. Patrick himself, and the New Ulm Battery – the only known complete Civil War era horse drawn artillery unit of its kind in the U.S. whose members dress in kilts and pull their cannons in the parade. Also honored this year, will be all past parade Grand Marshals and Queens.

A small bagpipe band from Macalester College directed by Pipe Major Mike Breidenbach and New Ulm’s Concord Singers, a German male chorus group who will rename themselves the O’Concord Singers for the day, along with local Irish Bard, folk singer and guitarist Jerry Chamberlain, will serenade crowds with traditional Irish folk music including Danny Boy immediately after the parade at the Gathering of the Clans Banquet in the Wilhelmina Room at Veigel’s Kaiserhoff – aptly renamed Don’s Pub.

The parade was embraced by the German community because “Everyone wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” said Mary O’Connor, Bill’s wife. “When Germans see the good times and fun, they kind of wish they were Irish. You kind of see the envy in their eyes.” Parade posters announce that all Germans are welcome to participate. Many businesses get into the spirit, too, jokingly posting signs stating ‘Leave New Ulm to the Natives’ or ‘We will not replace the polka with the jig.’ The Irish reciprocate by wearing shirts that state ‘If sauerkraut is a vegetable, then Guinness is medicine.’

The New Ulm Journal newspaper highlights the parade and festivities with its annual ‘blarney article’. The article, peppered with fact, pokes fun at the local government, German citizens and constabularies. Outrageous festival attendance reports, events like the ZeroK Run & Crawl, sauerkraut burying contest, rope pushing contest and petitions to replace the town’s 117 foot Herman the German statue with St. Patrick solicit serious responses from the community.

“We never intended to insult the Germans, but they’re so gullible”, stated Dempsey, “we are just trying to give them a sense of humor”. Since the Germans just don’t understand, the organizers are trying to make the event more legitimate this year.

Embarking on a new tradition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the parade, the Irish Cultural Society of New Ulm will host the Great Irish Fair of New Ulm on March 14. The event encourages friendship, loyalty and kinship among those people of New Ulm and the surrounding area who are interested in Irish culture, traditions and history.

The festival will feature the O’Shea Irish Dancers travelling performance troupe from St. Paul, Charlie Heymann and Chad McAnally Irish folk music, an Irish Bed Turning – a presentation of heritage quilts along with an Irish tea and scones, ‘Irish Tales and Other Blarney’ storyteller Pati Kachel, an artisan market, beer and bacon tasting and traditional Irish foods and refreshments. The festival will be held at the Holiday Inn Conference Center and runs from 9 am to 7 pm.

Three Irish for the Cheers

Tom Terry Bill

From left to right: Parade founders Tom Donnelly, Terry Dempsey and Bill O’Connor discuss route logistics at the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New Ulm circa 1966.

What started out as little more than a whim has come a long way in 50 years . . . the St. Patrick’s Day Parade continues to be a celebration of fun, small town spirit and gratitude to the support that is shown to the community.

Sponsors

All artistic performance activities are partially funded by the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council with an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the State’s general fund. Additional funding was received from the New Ulm Area Foundation, the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau and the Gislason & Hunter Law Firm.