By Susan T. Hessel —
Whoever said, “On St. Patrick’s Day, the whole world is Irish,” has never been to La Crosse. Here it takes practically the entire month of March to celebrate Irish heritage.
Pat Stephens, president of Irishfest La Crosse from its beginning 15 years ago, agreed. “Between the three organizations, that is true.” He referred to the March activities of Irishfest, the Shamrock Club, and the La Crosse-Bantry Friendship Association.
- March 6: Irishfest sponsors a bus trip to Eau Claire to hear We Banjo 3, which Stephens calls “the hottest band on the Irish circuit right now.” The $50 fee includes admission, the bus trip and beverages.
- March 9: Shamrock Club’s annual dinner, where Luke Seielstad and Becky Zentner will be introduced as the Irish Man of the Year and Irish Rose, respectively. They serve as ambassadors to Irishfest, which is a celebration from Aug. 9-11 in 2019.
- March 15: The Shamrock Club sponsors the Irish Bus Brigade, which tours schools and senior housing locations to bring the joy of Irish music and culture.
- March 16: St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown La Crosse, sponsored by Irishfest. Between 40 to 50 units will march, with anywhere from 500 to 2,000 people on the sidelines, depending on weather. “The downtown businesses do a nice job of celebrating the Irish and it brings people downtown,” said Patrick Mullaney, an Irishfest board member and co-chair of the parade. A celebration follows at The Brickhouse on 5th Avenue.
- March 30: The La Crosse-Bantry Friendship Association’s Fourth Annual Coulee Hoolie Ceili Fundraiser and Irish Heritage Night from 6-10 p.m. at the American Legion Hall at 711 6th St. South, La Crosse. The Coulee Hooligans will provide music and popular caller Tim Jenkins will lead the audience in a variety of group dances. “The purpose and goal of the event is to raise money for deserving nonprofits from La Crosse and Bantry, Ireland, that share the same missions,” said Lynn Marie West, association president. Proceeds benefit hospices in Bantry and the Mayo and Gundersen hospice programs in La Crosse. “We really want to raise more awareness of our sister city connection with Bantry and the whole sister city organization. Fundraising is a way to not only connect us with Irish activities and fun things to do, but to say we all deal with the same kind of issues.”
Why so much celebration? “We were depressed so long by the English that we had to find our own way to have fun; find our own Irish humor, dance and music,” Stephens said. “It’s built into our culture now.”
For Mullaney, these activities are an opportunity to celebrate “my own heritage, and the culture of my grandfather and my parents, as well as the love of Irish music and dance.”
“It’s important to celebrate any culture,” West said. “We need to understand other people. We have a lot of Irish people in the area. The Irish have made a significant impact on our country coming in as hard-working people with good values—strength, perseverance and enjoying a good time.” Even if you don’t have a drop of Irish blood, she hopes “you will get into the spirit of the Irish.”