NORTHAMPTON — With 250 people packed into the Hotel Northampton grand ballroom on Thursday for the annual St. Patrick’s Chamber Breakfast, members of the Northampton St. Patrick’s Association cracked jokes, presented awards and crowned the 2016 parade grand marshal.
No one was safe from the comedic roasting, and the room was full of plenty of dignified victims — Northampton state Rep. Peter Kocot, Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan, Northampton City Councilors Ryan O’Donnell and Jesse Adams, Hampshire County Register of Probate Michael J. Carey, and Hadley Selectman Gerry Devine among them.
Tickets for the breakfast, which cost $25 apiece, sold out three weeks ago, said Suzanne Beck, executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce. She described this as “unheard of” in the event’s 36-year history. Chris Powers, president of the association, said the event has never seen such a crowd.
“This is a big year,” said Powers, adding that the event will remain at Hotel Northampton in future years.
Community members clad in wool sweaters and varying shades of green were served a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, French toast, potatoes and biscuits on a silver platter.
By 7:45 a.m., the roar of conversation and clanking of silverware filled the room. The Irish jig playing from speakers was only audible when the room fell quiet for the Irish blessing. It was abruptly shut off, however, interrupting the prayer’s conclusion and bringing about a confused seconds-long silence. The crowd laughed loudly in response.
“That’s what happens when you have non-union police working for you,” Powers said, clearly unable to resist the opportunity for a joke, though it was unclear at whose expense.
Getting up to the podium, Narkewicz said this is the annual event in which he’s “expected to be funny.” After cracking a Donald Trump joke, he talked about the tough job of Father Francis Reilly, who sat beside him.
“A sobbing Mrs. Flannery approaches Father Reilly after Mass,” narrated Narkewicz. “‘My husband passed away last night.’”
“Father Reilly said, ‘Please, Mary — put down that gun.’”
Laughter erupted from the room.
Ray Conway and Brian Rust, or the “Smothers Brothers,” delivered most of the breakfast’s roasting. They launched into their bit by apologizing to anyone they offended last year.
“Offending you was not our intention, but a lucky byproduct,” said Rust, a former police lieutenant and head of security at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. “If you have no sense of humor, you’re a priest or you brought your children, these next few minutes are not going to be good for you.”
In an apparent reference to Northampton’s new style of decorative lighting this past holiday season, the pair complimented Beck on the chamber’s support for Northampton’s diverse heritage. She’s so supportive, they joked, she’ll be hanging “leprechaun balls” from the lampposts in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. The crowd howled.
Rust and Conway, medical director at AEIOU-Urgent Care in Amherst, spat out jokes in rapid-fire succession.
“I went to a show at the Iron Horse called Gaelic Storm,” said Rust. “You can imagine my relief when I found out it was Irish music.”
The two needled Narkewicz throughout their routine, joking about his “hatred” for private business, the Black Lives Matter banner at City Hall and high tax rates.
With taxes on condoms and sewers, master of ceremonies Brian Joyce joked, Narkewicz is “actually going to tax the people of Northampton coming and going.”
Rust announced his bid for sheriff, eliciting laughs from Sheriff Robert Garvey’s table, and then batted around some possible campaign slogans.
“How about, ‘Feel the Rust,’” said Conway. “Or, ‘Brian ain’t lyin’.”
“How about, “Let’s make Hampshire County a hole again,’” said Conway.
Two Northampton High School students were presented with awards during the ceremony. Patrick Grygorcewicz received the association’s Joan Tobin Citizenship Award, and Olivia Kan-Sperling received the William F. O’Connor Shanachie Award.
In thanking and presenting a plaque to Michael T. Ahearn, whose funeral home sponsors the breakfast and who sponsors the Northampton division of the parade, Timothy Driscoll choked up. Ahearn is the president of the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
Northampton’s Patrick Diggins was named this year’s parade marshal, meaning he will lead the Northampton contingent in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade on Sunday. During the breakfast, Diggins was awarded an honorary plaque and the shillelagh that he’ll need to lead the way. The shillelagh is a walking stick lined with metal rings engraved with each marshal’s name and the year they led the parade.
“I’m still in shock,” Diggins said following the breakfast. “And I’m very excited.”
As the crowd filtered out of the ballroom, Conway and Rust downplayed the amount of effort they put into their roast. “Does it seem like it takes a lot of effort?” Rust asked. “We started piecemealing it together after last year’s breakfast, and we practiced it a couple of times together.”
Conway said he helps look up the jokes and is in charge of the Irish brogue, while Rust writes the material. “We make fun of everybody, including ourselves,” said Conway.
Powers said proceeds from the breakfast will go toward youth sports, Toys for Tots and other community contributions the association makes.
“As soon as we get it, it goes right back out,” said Powers. “That’s the Irish way.”
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.