One of the really unique celebrations that is going to take place here in less than a month will be the 15th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade and celebration on Saturday, March 15th. The official St. Patrick’s Day is March 17th, but Mondays aren’t ordinarily considered good days for a parade and party, at least in Rushville.
Of course, we’re not the only community that has a special celebration in observance of St. Patrick’s Day. Other celebrations that come to mind are held in places like Indianapolis, Chicago, and New York; but, next to Indianapolis, our St. Patrick’s Day parade is purported to be the second largest in the state. Not many communities our size – anywhere – hold such a large celebration, which is a unique tribute to the diversity of our cultural heritage. Not only that, but thanks to the Rushville St. Patrick’s Day Committee whose members include Dan Shanahan, Brian Sheehan, and John McCane, we have a great celebration!
Most of Rush County’s Irish population came to this country as a result of the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, although some of the earliest settlers here were from Ireland – some 40 years earlier. The period of greatest Irish immigration to the United States came between 1841 and 1860. During those brief twenty years nearly 1.7 million people from Ireland came to this country. Many immigrants found work helping build the nation’s rail system. Tradition holds that the majority of Rushville’s Irish population arrived here when the community was becoming a rail hub in Southeastern Indiana.
Among the people who settled this community and county, the Irish make up one of the largest groups, along with those from Germany, England and Scotland. There has also been a sprinkling of other ethnic groups that have made, and continue to make, life in Rush County more diverse. Some will remember Louie Poulos who originally came here via Ellis Island, from Greece. I have always suspected that he shortened his name when he came to this country. It seems to me that his full name was Nickolapoulos, but I could be wrong about that. Many will also remember Madeline Bonnie who was the Belgian war bride of an American GI. Of course, there has also been an African-American community here since well before the Civil War.
Around the turn of the last century, there were also several Jewish families who lived here. I can recall my Aunt Nell Winship telling me about one of her friends when she was a girl. Her friend’s name was Yetta Shabinski. My guess is that her family was either of Polish or Russian extraction. More recently our superintendent of schools prior to Dr. Williams was Dr. Edwin Lyskowinski. There’s no doubt about his Polish ancestry. Within the last few years there has been the emergence of a Latin-American community here since the opening of the popular El Reparo Restaurant and the equally popular Mescal Restaurant on the north side. There are also Asian families who opened a Chinese restaurant and who came here with the location of new industries in the industrial park along Conrad C. Harcourt Way. So, as one can readily see, there has been more cultural diversity here than one might first imagine.
Nevertheless, one of the largest groups who still celebrate their cultural heritage are those who trace their ancestry to Ireland. Saint Patrick’s Day is obviously named for Patrick, a missionary who first brought Christianity to Ireland in the fifth century. According to Wikipedia, not long after his death, which legend says was March 17th, various Christian churches declared that he was a Saint in Heaven and his name appears in the List of Saints.
Personally, I trace my Irish ancestry to my great-great grandmother on my mother’s side. Her maiden name was Elizabeth Ellen Casady – they don’t come more Irish than that! She married John Pearsey. One of their children was Margaret, who married Morris Winship – my great grandparents. Margaret and Morris Winship had three children, my two great aunts and my grandfather Will Winship. He married Florence Newkirk. They had two children, my mother, Margaret Winship, and my late uncle, Bill Winship. That’s probably more family history than anybody would want to know, but that’s how I claim to be part Irish and also prove I’m really a Rush Countian!
Getting back to our local St. Patrick’s Day celebration coming up next month, the parade usually begins about 3 p.m. and forms behind Main Street Christian Church and proceeds down Main to Third Street where it turns left and ends in front of the local Knights of Columbus Hall. The party begins at the K of C Hall at 7 p.m. and ends when it’s over. The parade and party attract hundreds of people, and each year it grows larger. The party itself features Irish music, green beer, all sorts of green derbies, necklaces, pins, and a few Irish kilts; and it can be said that “a good time is generally had by all!” If you’re planning to attend this year’s bash, you may even see a slightly oversize leprechaun! As the late actor Barry Fitzgerald might have said, “One of the wee folk, don’t ya know.”
More importantly, it has become a great fund raiser for many of worthwhile local activities. Since the start of the local St. Patrick’s Day parade and party, the committee has raised and donated over $120,000 to something like 42 local charitable causes.
The descendents of Rushville’s Irish community have preserved their heritage and turned it into one of this community’s best celebrations.
That’s –30—for this week.