Holyoke's Irish Heart
Education and the church became the stepping stones to future success for the Irish in Holyoke and in other places across America. “At least 80 percent of elementary school teachers in Holyoke were Irish girls. My aunt Florence and Ellen Walsh were schoolteachers. The school door was open to them where other places were not,” Bob says.
That tradition continues. The Irish still have a presence in the school system, as they do in the political life of Holyoke. This year’s parade grand marshal Chris Patton Zacoc, an educator in Holyoke’s public schools for 35 years, was the subject of Amongst Schoolchildren, a bestselling book by Tracy Kidder, who spent a year monitoring Patton in her classroom.
At the mass, the bishop can barely contain himself when the organ acts up and every beautifully sung hymn ends on a long mournful note because of trapped air in the pipes. Grinning, he thanks the choir “and the leprechaun in the organ.”
At the J.F.K. Award dinner, humor abounds as Mayor Mike Sullivan, who in an alternative universe would be a stand-up comedian, gives a good old-fashioned ribbing to honoree Joe Loughrey, a boyhood pal. Meanwhile, my sister Honora, friend Irene, and I enjoy sitting around the dinner table with Kateri Walsh, who chairs the Ambassador Committee, her husband Dan, a former Marine, and sons Chris, Daniel and Bennett.
Chris regales us with stories of his trip to Ireland as Daniel tries to get a word in on the finer points of Irish culture, and Bennett, a lieutenant colonel, just back from his third tour in Iraq, tells us what the Shannon stop-off means to the American troops coming and going to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Kateri, who was honored with this year’s George E. O’Connell Award for her parade committee work, says she is “never happier” than when she has all her seven children together. They would all join her the following morning at the Mayor’s Breakfast and later on the parade route.
The Mayor & The award
The Mayor’s Breakfast, where I receive my Ambassador’s Award, is at the Yankee Peddler, which despite its name has a distinct Southern feel. The main dining hall is a beautiful room with a magnificent chandelier from the old Metropolitan Hotel in New York City, and a balcony where the Grand Colleen Ashley Tucker and her entourage hang out. The Mummers entertain, the Marine band plays, and Sgt. Dan Clark sings “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” just for me.