James Coll, Neal Burns and Charles P. Melley rode horses to lead the 1916 St. Patrick's Day parade in Lansford. The two color bearers were Dr. T.V. McGeehan and Bart Cavanaugh. Coaldale's last surviving native-born Irishman at the time, Simon Rodgers, was on the right.
At one time, St. Patrick's Day parades in Carbon County ranked among the area's outstanding celebrations. In the Panther Valley, which boasts a large Irish population, this observance was a big day for the descendants of Killarney's shores.
Lodges of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in each town played host to an annual parade. Although most of the events were in Coaldale, some also were held in Summit Hill and Lansford.
Shortly before and immediately after the turn of the century, the parades were staged without regard to the weather. Although the streets weren't paved at the time, it made little difference to the loyal sons of Erin who often marched through ankle-deep mud and snow to honor their patron saint.
NOTED BANDS PLAYED
Led by the region's best bands, stout-hearted Irishmen marched for hours to the tune of the "Wearing of the Green," and other lilting Irish songs. The line of march also boasted beautifully decorated horse-drawn floats bearing pretty Irish lassies who represented the Maid of Erin and the Goddess of Liberty. In those times, heavy snows were common on St. Patrick's Day. During one of the early parades, the sleigh carrying the Goddess of Liberty upset, throwing the girl into a snow drift.
Through the years, each successive parade became bigger and more impressive. Probably the most memorable, considered for all practical reasons the last one in the valley, was the gala celebration staged on March 17, 1916, in Lansford.
In almost knee-deep snow and slush, several hundred Irishmen marched from Coaldale to Lansford. Old news accounts relate it was one of the coldest, but biggest and best the valley ever witnessed.
BAND INSTRUMENTS FROZE
Led by Pottsville's snappy Third Brigade Band, the parade assembled near St. Mary's of the Assumption Church in Coaldale and moved to Lansford. The weather was so bitter cold that the military band's instruments froze before the notes of the first march were concluded.
The other bands in line, including Lansford's crack Columbian Band -- the Centerville Drum and Bugle Corps -- experienced the same difficulty.
Undaunted by lack of music, the marchers, led by a tuxedo-clad color guard astride black and white horses, marched block after block singing Irish airs and folk songs. The horses were lent for the occasion by McGinty Brewing Co., Tamaqua. In spite of the cold weather, a huge crowd was on hand.
Puffing clouds of warm breath from their lips, which steamed into the freezing air, the hale and hearty sons of St. Patrick presented a truly impressive sight, marching in their high silk hats and black suits. They wore broad green sashes edged with white around their waists and over their lapels. Many also displayed large shamrocks on their hats and derbies.
The Celebration's Maid of Erin was Mrs. Hugh Thomas, the former Bridget Sannegan, and the Goddess of Liberty was Mrs. David Griffith, the former Grace McGeehan.
FEATURED MINSTREL SHOW
In the afternoon when the parade ended on Lansford's W. Ridge Street, dozens of half-frozen marchers visited "Colonel" McFadden's Hotel. There, chilled bones were warmed as the building resounded with the vibrant tunes of the Emerald Isle. The day's festivities ended with an old time Irish minstrel show.
This parade is considered the last of a continuous series held in Carbon County. The only St. Patrick's Day Parade recorded after 1916 was staged in Nesquehoning around 1928, in response to activities of the Ku Klux Klan.