An Irish celebration: St. Patrick’s breakfast brings hundreds together for laughs and honors

  • Tony Ryan, the 2023 parade marshal for Northampton’s contigent in Sunday’s big parade in Holyoke, speaks at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tony Ryan, the 2023 parade marshal, speaks at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom O’Connor speaks at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom O’Connor, speaking at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast Friday morning, parodied the recent phenomenon of students drinking “borgs.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tom O’Connor speaks at the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast Friday morning. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 3/17/2023 1:13:24 PM

NORTHAMPTON — At Northampton’s annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, Erin Cahillane made it clear that this holiday stood head and shoulders above the rest in her mind.

“Forget Christmas, forget Halloween,” said Cahillane, the president of the Northampton St. Patrick’s Association. “Because where else can you wear a sequin dress at 7 o’clock in the morning?”

The breakfast was held on Friday morning at the Hotel Northampton and drew hundreds of attendees, many wearing some form of green while enjoying a meal of home fries, scrambled eggs, bacon and French toast. The event helped kick off the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Northampton, which will also send a contingent to take part in the planned parade in Holyoke on Sunday.

Prominent public officials at the event included Northampton City Council President Jim Nash, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, and Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, who also celebrated her birthday on Friday.

“I saw all the green and everyone all excited and maybe a little nerdy about something, so I thought I was invited to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles convention,” joked Sciarra, poking fun at the recent news of the city using $20,000 of COVID relief funds to build manhole covers featuring characters from the franchise. “But I’m fast on my feet, like a ninja, and see what’s happening, and I’m pivoting to say Happy St. Patrick’s Day.”

Tom O’Connor, a former FBI special agent and Northampton police officer, served as a guest speaker for the event, adding some more Irish humor and wit to the occasion.

“I found a picture of my brother Jack and I marching in the parade with my father back when he was the marshal. And wow, we looked awful,” he said. “We were wearing all of my older brother’s and sister’s clothing ... I was wearing I think a woman’s coat, which in some places might be outlawed as drag at some point.”

O’Connor also parodied the recent phenomenon of students drinking “borgs,” or blackout rage gallon jugs of alcohol and electrolytes that featured prominently in 28 UMass Amherst students being hospitalized during the recent Blarney Blowout, by holding up his own “borg” consisting of a green liquid.

“It’s a little known fact I’ve given up drinking beer,” he said. “I went to my favorite mixologist and I said, ‘I can’t drink beer anymore. Can you come up with something?’ He said, ‘Do I have something for you.’”

The association also handed out its James Brennan Award at the breakfast, a way to honor a member of the community who “has actively committed their time and efforts in helping the association carry out its goals.” This year’s winner was Harry Jekanowski, the Hampshire County Superior Court clerk.

“I still don’t know what I’m doing up here,” Jekanowski quipped, a reference to his Polish heritage.

The association also honored Tony Ryan, this year’s marshal for the Northampton contingent in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day parade. Ryan has worked with the association for decades, in addition to being a photographer, special education teacher, youth soccer coach and a teacher of transcendental meditation.

“I’ve gone from that kid that was running up and down the sidelines as an 8-year-old to being the guy actually in the parade,” he said. “It’s very, very humbling.”

Following the breakfast, many attendees moved to Hospital Hill for the association’s Daly and Halligan Memorial Ceremony, before heading to Fitzwilly’s Restaurant and Bar for a traditional Irish celebration of drinks and music.

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