NORTHAMPTON — Lessons learned from this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast — never get in a “butt-kicking” contest with former state representative Edward McColgan and, more seriously, remember those who came to this country years ago seeking a better life.
As is custom each year, the city’s 37th annual breakfast, sponsored by the Northampton St. Patrick’s Association on Friday, gave some 240 people a chance to wear green, crack jokes, present awards and celebrate Irish heritage.
But it also had a more somber undertone, as speakers asked the audience, given today’s political climate, to also celebrate ancestors who risked their lives to come here.
The event, held at Hotel Northampton, began with an introduction from Megan Gilboy and an invocation from Father Francis Reilly of the Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish. Mayor David Narkewicz then drew some of the first laughs with jokes about fictitious tweets from President Donald Trump.
But the laughter was briefly interrupted by Suzanne Beck, the executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, who told her own family’s story of emigrating from Norway to find opportunity in the United States.
“It’s those kinds of stories we need to be telling, especially in the context of the political situation today,” Beck said.
That sentiment was echoed by W. Michael Ryan of Northampton, a former Northampton District Court judge and Northwestern district attorney, but not before he brought the jokes roaring back.
Much of Ryan’s humor came in the form of legends about McColgan, the former state representative who was crowned this year’s marshal for the Northampton contingent in Holyoke’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday. (For details about the parade route see page B5.)
In one tall tale, Ryan told the story of when McColgan eventually became a farmer in Cummington and a visitor to the region from Miami shot a bird that landed on McColgan’s property.
After a brief argument over who the bird should belong to, McColgan, as the story went, said that such matters were locally resolved with a “butt-kicking” contest.
The man from Miami, dressed in fancy hunting gear, bent over first to receive three kicks in the backside from McColgan. The first landed him in mud, the second in a large cow pie. The third launched him into the pigsty.
“Alright, my turn,” the man said, covered in filth.
“Nah, I quit,” replied McColgan. “You can have the bird.”
“Whatever you do, especially if he’s had an Irish whiskey or two, don’t get in a butt-kicking contest with Ed McColgan,” Ryan concluded the anecdote.
But Ryan also spoke earnestly about the impact that McColgan, who was also a city councilor, had on Northampton politics, crediting him and others with turning a conservative political culture upside-down by reforming the city’s Democratic party.
“They turned Northampton into a liberal, progressive community,” Ryan said. “Without them, it would not be the accepting place it is today.”
Ryan was followed by the honoring of McColgan and the presentation of awards. Two high-schoolers, 18-year-old Shannon Ryan and 17-year-old Daniel McColgan, received the Joan Tobin Citizenship Award and the William F. O’Connor Shanachie Award, respectively.
“It’s really exciting,” Ryan told the Gazette afterward. “It’s nice to get some good news.”
“I thought I was in trouble at first,” McColgan said about receiving the phone call informing him of his award. For him, the best part of winning will be walking in the parade next to his grandfather, the Northampton marshal.
Brian O’Connor, 39, was awarded the association’s Brennan Award, named for a founding association member and former parade marshal, the late James Brennan.
“It’s definitely an honor and I’m more surprised than anything to be nominated,” O’Connor said following the event.Wisecracks
The brief pause to give awards didn’t keep local politicos and prominent figures safe from more wisecracks, however.
Master of Ceremonies Brian Joyce took the mic after the awards, and turned the spotlight onto Northampton at-large city Councilor Ryan O’Donnell with another witty fable.
Joyce said that after graduating pharmacology school, friends would approach him and discretely attempt to get Joyce to give them uppers or downers. He denied them, he said, and as he got older, those rejected requests were increasingly for Viagra.
But when O’Donnell approached him privately one day, Joyce said he was confused; he didn’t expect O’Donnell to be asking for things like that.
Continuing his ribbing of O’Donnell, he recalled the city councilor approaching him slyly and asking: “You know where I can get some plastic grocery store bags?”
“Yeah,” Joyce replied after loud laughs from the crowd. “Southampton, like everyone else.” Narkewicz, Gilboy, Reilly and McColgan were also subjected to Joyce’s quips, as were other association leaders.
A few of Joyce’s jokes landed flat, but he drew laughter to end the breakfast by making light of a touchy subject that many city residents would understand: that everyone should give the breakfast’s organizers a high-five before leaving.
As the event ended and attendees began filtering out into the cold morning air, a sizeable contingent lead by O’Connor marched over to Fitzwilly’s Restaurant and Bar, where the party began in earnest.
Dusty Christensen can be reached at email@example.com.