A Long-Time Tradition
It’s an ongoing tradition for the Irish in Imogene, Iowa, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in commemoration of the patron saint of Ireland.
In the late 1800’s when the Irish were forced to leave their beloved homeland to survive the Irish potato famine, several immigrants found their way to Imogene. These Irish men and women didn’t leave Ireland by choice and it’s been said that St. Patrick’s Day in Imogene and throughout the United States was a melancholy day, with people lonesome for their forty shades of green and the families they left across the Atlantic Ocean. If you listen to the words of many traditional Irish songs, you can hear the sadness.
The next generation came along and sang the same sad songs, but with the help of a bit of Irish whiskey the tempo picked up and soon they were dancing the Irish jigs they learned as children. Then the Hibernians, an Irish-Catholic fraternal organization, formed a group in Imogene and sponsored dances and talent shows on St. Patrick’s Day.
In the mid-1950s the Imogene celebration revolved around a St. Patrick’s Day roast beef dinner served in the church hall. Entire families worked to make this community dinner a success with women cooking in the kitchen, children clearing tables, and the men doing dishes in a back room where they had sneaked in a pint or two of the Irish. The only St. Patrick’s Day parade in Imogene at this time was the men folk parading three blocks down the hill to the pub once the dishes were done.
By the 1980s the bars began having St. Patrick’s Day parties and in 1990 the first organized parade marched down the main street led by a group of kazoo players who had done their practicing five minutes earlier in the bar. The parade was short but a big hit and full-fledged St. Patrick’s Day festivities began to develop. Today the celebration is unrivaled by any other in Southwest Iowa.
Every year marchers and floats will parade the length of Main Street. They go up the three blocks of Main Street, do a sharp pivotal turn and march back down. After the parade, Hunters Branch Creek on the west edge of town always turns green with the help of Triple K food coloring. Shamrocks floating downstream will race to a finish line in the traditional Shamrock Race. Irish jig contests for children and adults, Bobbing for Potatoes, live music throughout the day. and a dance traditionally follow that evening.
On Sunday Mass is always celebrated at St. Patrick Church at 8:30 a.m. then from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. the St. Patrick’s Roast Beef Dinner sponsored by the Knights of Columbus is served.
Although the town of Imogene has dwindled, the Irish spirit has stayed alive through generations. Three-year old Mairead Willimack of DeWitt, IA, has Imogene O’Connor roots and when asked recently if she was going to Imogene for St. Patrick’s Day this year, her reply was, “Absolutely!” The loyalty starts early.
(For more information contact Veronica O’Connor Keasling
Editor/publisher the Imogene Hub