July 23, 2014

Iowans celebrate their Irish roots

St. Patrick’s Day parades and celebrations are planned around the state this weekend. In Emmetsburg, the celebration stretches over three days, with a parade through the city today.

Senator David Johnson is from Ocheyedan, but he represents the city of Emmetsburg in the legislature. “Emmetsburg is named for a famous Irish patriot, Robert Emmet, who gave his life seeking to overthrow the English in Dublin in 1803. Only 25 years of age when he was captured and sent to the gallows, Robert Emmet was a courageous advocate of human rights,” Johnson says.

“Facing harsh British rule and famine, many Irish families left their homeland for the fertile prairie of Palo Alto County.” The first Irish immigrants in the area arrived in 1856 and the city of Emmetsburg was formed at its present site in 1874.

“Emmetsburg was mostly populated by the Irish and so began a custom of observing the Feast Day of Ireland’s patron saint,” Johnson says, “but interest in that observation began to fade over time until, that is, a group of lads — believing that no one loves a parade more than the Irish — donned green derbies, carried their coat of arms, and marched through Emmetsburg on March 17, 1961. That small parade has since blossomed into an elaborate, three-day celebration involving the entire community.”

In 1962, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Ireland signed an agreement declaring Dublin a “sister city” of Emmetsburg. Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy, a member of Ireland’s Parliament, is in Emmetsburg for this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

“The town nearest to where I live actually has a connection with Robert Emmet because the local square is called Emmet Square and the address of my office is actually Emmet Street Borough,” she says, “so there’s an even deeper connection than we first thought.”

Emmetsburg, Iowa, held a welcoming reception for Corcoran-Kennedy on Wednesday afternoon. The parade starts at 1:30 Saturday, there’s also a rugby tournament on Saturday and a “Social Gathering of the Clans” at the Emmetsburg Fire Station on Saturday afternoon.