Irena Kaci

Moving to Worcester over twenty years ago, I noticed the Irish nomenclature the most.  “Kelley Square”, which led directly to “The Emerald Isle” diner, which seemed very much like an island amid the vortex of untamed traffic. My friends and I would wind down our busy days at the old “Blarney Stone” or “Moynehan’s” or any other number of establishments with a profoundly Irish name. It is hard to imagine the Worcester of three hundred years ago, in which the first Irish immigrants were carving out a space. But those early days were humble and disheartening beginnings, as is often the case with any group of immigrants setting down new roots. This is precisely what makes celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day such an overwhelmingly joyous occasion for the long established Irish Diaspora calling Worcester its home.

Named with pride after Blackstone canal-building hero Tobias Boland, Boland’s Pub is readying for their 2nd ever Saint Patrick’s Day Month.  I spoke with recent transplant Stephen Porter, better known as ‘Shuggy’. “We are Irish from Ireland owned pub.  We all hail from the emerald isle. We’re coming up on our 1-year anniversary. When we were thinking of naming our pub, we wanted to find an Irish historical figure, with a positive impact on the city. Tobias Boland was an easy choice.”  

Impressed by the complex history of the canal builders, Porter got to work in honoring his memory. “We were floored by the history of the canal. Boland gave so much to the community, and wanted to go headlong into that. His family reached out and some of them made it out to the grand opening.”

Though strictly a pub, without a kitchen, Boland’s still has plenty to offer to those looking for someplace to land after the parade. “We were open for last paddy’s day. It was an eye opener. So this year we are prepared. Last year was kind of like our regular crowd, but a lot more of it. This year we are ready for them, we are well stocked on Jameson and Guinness.”  Aside from the atmosphere and the libations, Boland’s will also offer live music on that day, as well as every Sunday during the month of March. “We have Mike Ladd & Friends coming through around 3pm on parade day. He’s a hit. He’s well known in the community.”

Tucked in a rather industrial part of Webster square, Rascal’s Saloon (70 James St.) is also packing their calendar for the month of March. “We have live music 4-5 nights a week easily. Saint Patrick’s Day is special to us because it was the last big event we were able to have before the pandemic hit. So it was really memorable.” This year they are hoping for something a little more manageable than that first event. “We’re doing it a little smaller, this year’s celebration, and it’ll take place the week after the parade, which will actually be Saint Patrick’s Day itself. We have 3 tremendous bands playing, Redneck Castaway Band, No Shoes Nation Band, and Branded Country That Rocks. That last one is a cover band. We will also have Annie Brobst, who is an amazing country singer. Tickets are $25.” 

Carpenters Local 336 is another group celebrating their longstanding Irish roots. I spoke with David Minasian, who encourages readers to look for their two floats in the parade. “One of them you really can’t miss, one is simply a giant wooden hammer on the back of the pickup trucks. That one is the classic carpenter’s union float.” For almost forty years, Carpenters Local 336 has been hosting a private BBQ celebration after the parade. “We usually get about 75-100 members attend, and this year, we are excited to be handing out Kelley green hardhats in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day.” Initially Carpenter’s Unions used to be divided by nationality, with the Irish Local and Finnish Local being their own separate branches. These days, as the city grows more and more diverse, it also grows more unified. “We don’t have as many Irish members as we used to in our early days, but on Saint Patrick’s Day, we are all Irish. We love to uphold this tradition of participating in the parade because it makes us good neighbors, and we value being part of the fabric of Worcester.”

As far as the Hibernian Cultural Foundation is concerned, all of March is cause for celebration.  Established in 1897 as a community center for Irish American Culture, the Hibernian has lived through many transformations. Its current iteration resides in the traditionally Irish pub/eatery known as Fiddler’s Green (19 Temple St.) and it is famous for being a gathering destination after the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I spoke with Stephen Beltan, Michael Coonan, and Ellen Ganley about the planned festivities. “This year we are hosting our 40th iteration of the Festival, so it’s a special milestone. It’s always the first Saturday of the month, so this year it’ll be on the 2nd of March.” The festival attracts up to a thousand people as it lasts for about eight to nine hours. “We started preparing for it nearly 6 months out, but a lot of it is just already in place from years and years of precedent.”-says Coonan –“It’s a mildly controlled chaos, supported by lots of volunteers.” The two local Irish step-dancing schools McInerney & Murphy will stage traditional performances, and there will be plenty of live music. “We are super excited about the two bands that are playing,” –Ganley explains- “ The Young Wolftones, and Derek Warfield. Both are excellent artists and really embody the energy and optimism of a new generation of Irish musicians.” The festival takes place at the Saint Spyridon Greek Orthodox Cathedral. 

Of course the festival is only one small part of what the Hibernian is doing to celebrate the rich Irish lore and tradition in Worcester for the month of March. “We will have live music every weekend in March.  On March 9th, we’ll have The Druids, an award winning international folk band, on Sunday March 10th, after the parade we will have Erin Og, and then on March 17th Saint Paddy’s Day proper, we will have the Belfast Cowboys.” –says Beltan –“But no matter the weekend or the live music offering, we are here and open to the public all the time. We are welcoming of anyone wanting to come and experience a traditional Irish pub. 

In March we are a little more busy than usual, and try to stick to Irish music, but most months we entertain a variety of genres of music. We are very intentional.” 

After the parade, or on Saint Patrick’s Day, many local Worcesterites of Irish Ancestry find their way to the Fiddler’s Green. “Sometimes people meet here and we take a van to the parade.”- says Ganley –“People really see us as a big part of the community.”

On Sunday March 10th 2024 starting at noon, the 42nd iteration of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade will travel down from Webster Square to Elm Park with many recurring and some first time floats. I spoke with Erin Zamarro, parade chairperson to get the scoop. “This is my 2nd year as the chairperson for the parade. The parade was always around for as a kid. It’s always been just kind of there, and I’ve been a volunteer for several years. We have a lot of new entrants this year, which is nice.  The Burncoat Senior High School dance team, which took 3rd place in a national competition will be attending this year. They couldn’t come last year because of a scheduling conflict but we got them this year. The North High School basketball team will be there as well as some stalwarts. The Shriners will be back as always, with their little cars that zip around. They’re a big hit, so we are glad to have them every year! The Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) marching band will be there, they are really great! They and North High have been coming for a few years. The local Carpenters Union, and the Clinton Fire Department is coming with their antique fire truck”

In recent memory, the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade has drawn over 100,000 onlookers and participants in the festivities. And, even though the festivities begin closer to noon, volunteers and staffers are there much earlier. “I’ll be working the morning half of the parade; volunteers are out as early as 6 AM; we start work for the parade. I wind up walking in the parade with our grand marshal. His name is Richard J. Smalley, local veterans organization, including the American legion post on Vernon Hill. It is truly the Irish pride of Worcester.”

From a small but determined band of immigrants to the growing reverberation of Worcester’s earliest workforce, the Irish Americans of Worcester are an integral part of the community. During what is arguably the least green month of the year, the heartening explosion of Kelley green harkens brighter days. It is a proud citywide tradition that honors the sacrifices that each generation makes so that the next one can bloom.