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St. Patrick's Day in Milwaukee History

Published March 1, 2016

Milwaukee loves a good celebration, and St. Patrick’s Day serves as a yearly spring training for the City of Festival’s busy summer months. Looking back to newspaper clippings from the early 1900's, though, reminds us that March 17 has also annually celebrated the Irish heritage of our city, paving the way for institutions like the Shamrock Club of Wisconsin, the Irish Cultural and Heritage Center, and Milwaukee Irish Fest.

"The Irish In America," March 17, 1912

St. Patrick's Day, 1912 - Milwaukee Sunday Sentinel

The Sunday Sentinel’s Special Features section from March 17, 1912 featured important figures in Irish America of the time. The article profiles celebrities of the time including the likes of Victor Herbert (noted composer), orator W. Bourke Cockran, and philanthropist Countess Annie Leary.

"Everybody Wears The Shamrock Today," March 17, 1912

Everybody Wears the Shamrock Today

The Milwaukee Journal ran the cartoon, “Everybody Wears the Shamrock Today” on St. Patrick’s Day 1912 as well. Although the depictions are potentially offensive by today’s standards, the sentiment still rings true today: St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish bring together Milwaukee regardless of our backgrounds.

"Ireland Has Had Many Flags," March 17, 1912

Ireland Has Had Many Flags, 1912

The Sunday Sentinel also published this article describing the flags of Ireland. Its author may have been more influenced by the Gaelic revivalism than historical examples, but the efforts of educating the public about the history of Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day continues today.

"Young at 100," March 17, year unknown

Young at 100

Milwaukee also pays tribute on St. Patrick’s Day to the Irish characters that help make the city special. At age 100 on St. Patrick’s Day, Patrick O’Grady still reveled in his heritage: “Sure and I am a full blooded Irishman, O’Grady by name, and I have never been ashamed of the name or the nation.”

"On the Morning of Ireland's New Day," March 16, 1913


On the Morning of Ireland's New Day - 1913

Back in 1913, Judge Joseph G. Donnelly published a report about his recent trip to Ireland in the Milwaukee Free Press Sunday Magazine in an article titled "On the Morning of Ireland's New Day." He included this description of the music he heard there:

“I mention this incident as characteristic. There is music in the air. Girls sang as they sewed, old women sang as they knitted, and you rarely passed a worker on road or in field who wasn’t singing or whistling.”

2016's celebrations will of course honor Milwaukee's proud Irish heritage, but remember that the city boasts thriving Irish music, theatre, language, and arts communities around the year. Don't wait until next St. Patick's Day to soak it all in.

By Jeff Ksaizek, Archivist, Ward Irish Music Archives

Newspaper clippings from the Dunn Family Collection.

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