Even if you are not Irish, I would wager that you are familiar with St. Patrick’s Day. You possibly have worn green on March 17 and maybe have joined in a celebration or parade in the day’s honor.
For more than 1,000 years the Irish have been observing March 17 as the saint’s religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The date falls during Lent and Irish families traditionally attended church in the morning and celebrated in the afternoon. While most Catholics give up some food, dance or drink during those days before Easter, on St. Patrick’s Day that tradition is usually waived.
St. Patrick is the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland. He was kidnapped in Britain when he was 16 years old and taken to Ireland. He later escaped, but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to that country.
Right here in Denison, as early as 1896 there was a big celebration of St. Patrick’s Day when Bishop Dunne of Dallas came up to serve as orator for the occasion. It was a gala day for the Irish people living here, according to a paper prepared by one of the attendees.
Two months before the day, the local Lodge of Ancient Order of Hibernians decided to “unite in a public demonstration of honor and reverence in memory of the man who changed the current of thought and life in Ireland and who planted deep in the hearts of the Irish people a religion that clings to them with a tenacity of life itself.” The Order at that time was the oldest and largest Irish Catholic organization in the United States.
Committees were named and went to work full throttle the make the event not only a credit to the town’s Irish citizens, but to the entire city.
Bishop Dunne of the Dallas Diocese and who lived in Dallas “deserted” his home people so to speak to attend the Denison celebration.
The program began early in the morning with a march to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. A line was formed on West Main Street near the college building (probably Harshaw’s Business College) and marched east to Rusk Avenue, then north to the church.
The 16-piece Excelsior orchestra led the parade with the Hibernians close behind. Flags floated over the church and St. Xavier Academy buildings. High mass was conducted by Rev. Father Donohue, who stopped by for the event, Rev. T.K. Crowley and Rev. Mr. Donohue of Sherman.
A choir composed of Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Fritz, Mr. Pastore, Mr. Holden, Mr. Robinson, Mr. O’Brian and Professor Hennessy chanted Mozart’s “Twelfth Mass,” along with what was described as “the grandest of all church music.”
Bishop Dunne began his address by saying that the large crowd of Denisonians who had left their businesses to pay tribute to St. Patrick assured him that the blessings bestowed on the people by St. Patrick were being verified and the last prayer of that noble man was that these blessings probably would last forever.
He summed up in a few words the extent of the day’s celebration, then went into the history of the patron saint from the time he was sold into slavery and put to minding the herds up to the minute of the last unction before his death.
The Hibernians disbanded for lunch, then returned in the afternoon for the order to “Forward, March.” The parade that ensued was led by Chief Marshall Nolan and his aid, Denny Tobin; mounted police; the fire department; Lt. Col. I.M. Standifer, aid-de-camp for the Texas Volunteer Guard (TVG); Major W.O. Kretzinger, First Cavalry, TVG; Stanley Rangers; Troop Two, TVG, Captain C.C. Calvert, commanding; Excelsior Band; Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 1 from Denison and Division 2 from Sherman; Captain F.M. Wright, driving his Shetland ponies “in spike style”; St. Patrick’s School for Boys; Mike Collins, Marshall; and citizens and speakers in carriages.
Everyone loves a parade, and the line-up for this one would rival any parade that might be put together today.
The weather was cool and cloudy, but the streets were in good condition and the sidewalks along both sides of Main Street from Houston to Fannin avenues were lined with spectators. It was almost 4 o’clock when the parade finally wound down.
Invitations had gone out to between 300 and 400 citizens to attend a banquet, and as early as 8 o’clock they began arriving. By 9 p.m. the large hall was comfortably filled. Guests were received in the hall on the third floor of the building while the Columbians club rooms on the second floor had been set up for the dinner.
In the dining room three long tables stretched the entire length of the building. President J.E. O’Brien rapped for order and the Excelsior Orchestra of 10 pieces played lively music during the evening’s program so happily that the hours passed with no only realizing how long they were, according to the article.
Rev. T.K. Crowley spoke on “The Day We Celebrate,” after which the meeting was resumed in the upstairs hall. Mr. Murphy responded to toast “The United States.” Former Mayor Harry Tone responded to the subject, “Our Irish Friends.” “He was in his happiest mode and his fame as an after-dinner orator lost none of its prestige.”
In response to the toast “The Ladies,” Col. Standifer said, “Here is to women — never man’s equal, but always his superior, and in this toast I would use crystal clear water from the clouds of heaven, the fittest emblem of her character.”
Wow, can you imagine a toast like this in 1896?
Col. T.J. Crooks, the oldest newspaper man in North Texas, responded to the toast, “The Press.” It would be interesting to know what he had to say.
The festivities ended with a “grand dance” with nearly all the young people of Denison participating.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.