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St. Patrick’s Day toast keeps growing in Northampton 

  • Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Close-up of clover

    Close-up of clover Purchase photo reprints »

  • Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Retired two-star Gen. George Keefe, left, Mike Ahearn, Tim Driscoll, Beth Connly, Mike Ahearn Jr. and Pat Ahearn, all of Northampton, pose for a portrait with shots of Jameson at Tully O'Reilly's bar on Friday, March 8, 2013. The group of six participates in a 25-year tradition of toasting St. Patricks Day together at the bar.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Close-up of clover

— In 1989, six local residents gathered after the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast to celebrate all things Irish and raise a toast among friends in honor of the Emerald Isle’s patron saint.

The ritual continues Friday, when local residents and members of the Northampton St. Patrick’s Association gather at Tully O’Reilly’s Pub to raise a glass of whiskey in what has become an annual toast involving everyone at the bar.

The tradition began 25 years ago when retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. George Keefe organized a small toast among friends, an event that has expanded over the years to include the entire bar. Some years, it has seen as many as 50 participants at a time joining in the festivities.

“It’s tradition that we all go to the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at the Clarion, and 25 years ago I said, ‘What we need is a toast,’” said Keefe. “It’s a toast to wish everyone health, and to keep everyone safe and the world free from dominance.”

Among those expected at the toast this year will be James Keefe, George Keefe’s son, who has been named parade marshal for the Northampton contingent in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade. His father served as parade marshal for the Northampton group in 1994.

“Jim was born and raised in Northampton. I’ve known Jim all my life. He was a logical choice,” said Tom Dunphy, a member of the association’s board of directors. “All of his donations to the community, coaching kids’ sports like basketball, lacrosse, plus his commitment to the Air Force, to defending our country. He’s been an asset to our community his entire life.”

“It was a surprise,” said James Keefe, of being chosen as parade marshal.

He said it was his wife who secretly suggested him as a candidate.

“I was excited when I got it, it was a great bunch of people who have had it before me,” he said.

His father is equally pleased.

“I think it’s a great honor, I really do. I think it’s fantastic for any of my kids to get selected for parade marshal,” he said. “And I’m not sure he’s going to be the last one. I think he’s had a superb year, taking on the command and being the parade marshal, it’s just outstanding. It’s a great tribute to my son and his family and what they’ve accomplished. They’re an awesome family and he’s an awesome son.”

A ritual is born

The original toasters 25 years ago included Keefe, Northampton residents Michael and Patricia Ahearn, their son Michael Jr., Beth Connly, also of Northampton, and Tim Driscoll, the former owner and bartender of the pub, at that time known as City Cafe.

“As the years went on, more people joined our toast,” Michael Ahearn said. “It’s a tradition and usually there’s some Irish music and Gen. Keefe makes a little talk. It’s been a lot of fun for 25 years, and we really enjoy it.”

Driscoll said it’s been a pleasure to watch a tradition take root and blossom.

“When it started, it was just the six of us,” Driscoll said. “Eventually, it grew to where anyone who wanted to would join in. Tully, the pub’s owner, pays for the round as a way of saying thank you.”

Bar owner Tully McColgan said it just seems like the right thing to do.

“It’s just a good festive thing, you know? A lot of great people, a fun thing to do to kick off the holiday,” he said.

Driscoll said the toast has traditionally been made with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. This year, he said, representatives from John Jameson & Son, now a division of the French distiller Pernod Ricard, are expected to be on hand for the toast to make a presentation and thank those in attendance for their support. They will also present the bar with a commemorative plaque to honor the occasion.

“We feel honored to be part of a 25-year tradition at a classic Irish pub,” said Ashley McCarthy of United Liquors, the Massachusetts distributor of Jameson Irish Whiskey. “Jameson, Pernod Ricard and United Liquors are looking forward to toasting another year with Tully’s and Jameson.” McCarthy said that the toast will be conducted with Jameson’s new Black Barrel brand of whiskey.

Toastmaster

George Keefe hasn’t been able to attend as many of the toasts in recent years due to health problems, and is unsure if he will be able to be there this year, but he says he hopes the tradition that he started two-and-a-half decades ago continues to hold strong. Keefe, who served in the U.S. Air Force for 49 years after enlisting fresh out of high school in 1956, is Northampton’s only two-star general. He served with the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield until he was commissioned as an officer 12 years later, and went on to serve as the vice commander of that unit, as well as the vice commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard and as a major general before retiring for the third and last time at the age of 66.

Three of Keefe’s four sons, Gary, 49, James, 47, and Patrick, 45, have seen successful careers in the U.S. military as well, both in the Air Force and the Army. His fourth son, Timothy, also served briefly.

If Keefe can’t make the toast, Driscoll will lead the toast in his stead, though Keefe will be there in spirit.

“I’m glad it’s continued to be carried out, and I hope they continue to do it for many years to come,” he said.

Time frame please

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