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Local Irish celebrate heritage, humor at annual breakfast

  • Northampton Sheriff Robert Garvey, left, chats with former District Attorney John Callahan of South Hadley, Northwestern District Attorney Dave Sullivan and Community Outreach Coordinator Kathryn Callahan during Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast  Friday.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Northampton Sheriff Robert Garvey, left, chats with former District Attorney John Callahan of South Hadley, Northwestern District Attorney Dave Sullivan and Community Outreach Coordinator Kathryn Callahan during Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast Friday.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Guest speaker Mark "Harpo" Power gives an Irish history lesson during the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast  Friday.. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Guest speaker Mark "Harpo" Power gives an Irish history lesson during the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast Friday..

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Seated together at a table from left to right, Ed Shaughnessy, Harry Spencer of Northampton, Chris  Powers,  Eamonn Powers, 13, of Florence and Easthampton Savings Bank President William  Hogan react to a comedic speech during Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast  Frida.. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Seated together at a table from left to right, Ed Shaughnessy, Harry Spencer of Northampton, Chris Powers, Eamonn Powers, 13, of Florence and Easthampton Savings Bank President William Hogan react to a comedic speech during Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast Frida..

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Al Rosati of Hampden, right, plays with Billy  and Dana Warren, ages 3 and 5, of Westhampton after the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast held  Friday. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Al Rosati of Hampden, right, plays with Billy and Dana Warren, ages 3 and 5, of Westhampton after the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast held Friday.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • James Keefe, left, and Brian O'Connor, center, listen to a guest speech by Mark "Harpo" Power during the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast  Friday.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    James Keefe, left, and Brian O'Connor, center, listen to a guest speech by Mark "Harpo" Power during the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast Friday.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Northampton Sheriff Robert Garvey, left, chats with former District Attorney John Callahan of South Hadley, Northwestern District Attorney Dave Sullivan and Community Outreach Coordinator Kathryn Callahan during Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast  Friday.<br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Guest speaker Mark "Harpo" Power gives an Irish history lesson during the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast  Friday.. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Seated together at a table from left to right, Ed Shaughnessy, Harry Spencer of Northampton, Chris  Powers,  Eamonn Powers, 13, of Florence and Easthampton Savings Bank President William  Hogan react to a comedic speech during Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast  Frida.. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Al Rosati of Hampden, right, plays with Billy  and Dana Warren, ages 3 and 5, of Westhampton after the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast held  Friday. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • James Keefe, left, and Brian O'Connor, center, listen to a guest speech by Mark "Harpo" Power during the Northampton's St. Patrick's Association annual breakfast  Friday.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

— As is the custom, Northampton and the surrounding towns kicked off St. Patrick’s Day weekend with a breakfast and award ceremony Friday that proved a good-natured roast of prominent Irish community members.

Speakers at the 33rd annual Northampton St. Patrick’s Association Breakfast at the Clarion Hotel inserted names like those of former parade marshals Tom Dunphy and Michael Cahillane into classic jokes about Guinness-loving Irishmen, to the hooting laughter of the approximately 250 breakfasters. Many were clad in traditional Irish sweaters and green shirts and scarves.

Though the atmosphere was light-hearted and festive, Cahillane said afterwards that it serves an important purpose. “Our Irish heritage needs to carry on; it’s a legacy,” said Cahillane, Northampton’s marshal in the 1987 Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade and a trustee at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School. “I’m working with the youth of the city to educate them about our Irish heritage.”

He said he has attended the breakfast and the Holyoke parade since he was a child and the big weekend has never lost its luster. “I was brought up from a float builder to marching in the parade to being a toastmaster,” he said.

One of the people honored at this year’s breakfast was Col. James Keefe, Wing Commander of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base, who was decorated with a green sash designating him the 2013 Northampton parade marshal. “The only time I take it off is to take a shower,” he said jokingly at the podium.

He also warned the boisterous group to take it easy at the annual toast at Tully O’Reilly’s Pub after the breakfast, since they have a weekend of celebration ahead of them. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.

Keefe said he was flattered to be chosen as parade marshal. He knows the parade route well, as he usually drives in it with his 1967 GTO convertible. This year, his wife, Yvonne, will drive so he can wave to the crowds with his father, former 1994 parade marshal George Keefe. “Hopefully the weather will hold out and it will be nice,” he said.

Friday’s Master of Ceremonies Brian Joyce wasn’t worried about the weather. “It’s a great weekend for the Irish. It doesn’t matter about the weather or anything else, as long as everyone comes out and has a good time,” he said.

Guest speaker Mark “Harpo” Power, owner of the Harp Irish Pub in North Amherst and visiting lecturer of Irish history at UMass, was as cheeky as the other speakers.

“I come to you from North Amherst. The land of tobacco barns, farms, and thousands of drunken college students in plastic hats,” he said of students’ St. Patrick’s Day antics last weekend. “They can’t seem to figure out when St. Patrick’s Day is.”

He taught the crowd a history lesson about the heritage of “fitzies” — families with surnames including FitzGerald, FitzPatrick, and others — who are often incorrectly labeled as descendants of the Anglo-Norman settlers in England. But Power explained how Norman lords settled in Ireland and intermarried with the Irish to produce Hiberno-Normans that have little connection to the Anglo-Normans.

“It would be like someone in the future calling you Noho-ians and considering from where you’re from that you’re New York Yankees fans,” he said. “So my recommendation is to teach ‘em to say “Hamp” and take ‘em to a Red Sox game.”

Award winners at the breakfast included Northampton High School seniors Jamie Yurgielewicz, who won the Joan Tobin Citizenship Award, and Tyler Walsh, who received the William F. O’Connor Shanachie Award. Sean T. Sullivan won the Brennan Award for his contributions to the association.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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Legacy Comments1

I hope they all buy a copy of Nadine Gallo's Irish novel IMPETUOUS HEART just released by Levellers Press in Amherst. It's full of Irish stories from the time of the Irish rebellion (1916) as well as the origin of curses on such families as Fitzgerald and Kennedy. Broken treaties, reprisals against local Kerry people and Irish participation in World War I on the British side help persuade Nora, a young Kerry woman to take a position on the issues of the day. It's entertaining reading according to Professor E. Gallo of the UMass. English Dept.

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