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A brief history of St Patricks




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MARCH 16, 2009




Turning green with tradition


Irish heritage lives on in town of Erin


For the Daily News


Traditions run deep in the town of Erin, highlighted at this time of year by the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. 

“When we were growing up, St. Patrick’s Day was almost like New Year’s Eve. Everybody wore green and our mom and dad would take us up to the taverns for corned beef and cabbage, which was usually free,” said Jean Ann Frederickson, whose maiden name was Dunn and whose grandmother was a Stapleton.  “At the taverns, they would play Irish music. People, including the kids, would be singing Irish songs. It was a party atmosphere.”  Fredrickson still celebrates the day by putting on a kettle of corned beef and cabbage and making soda bread the old fashioned way.  “You have to use buttermilk and don’t use a mixer. It’s mixed by hand and baked in a cast iron Dutch oven or it doesn’t taste right. You can put currants – not raisins – in it and you have to cut cross on top. (It signifies Christ’s cross) but it also lets steam out,” Frederickson said. 

Area taverns are preparing for an influx bus tours and revelers, but Irish traditions include more than parades and green beer, another face of the culture is its people’s reverence and tenacity.   Tom Cull is a man of few words and a sharp Irish wit.   He claims to be a newcomer to the area.   “I’ve only lived here 50 years,” says Cull, 83, who resides outside Monches.  As a child growing up in a household of Irish heritage, St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated at church, observing the saint’s feast day. 

 That tradition continues as St. Patrick’s Catholic Chapel opens its doors for a feast day Mass at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday.   St. Kilian Pastor David La Plante, who celebrates the annual Mass, has added his own custom, said Maureen Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel.   “He brings cookies, and they must be eaten or he won’t have Mass the next year,” said Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel. “I’m hoping for good turnout. I don’t want to be eating three dozen cookies.” 

The church merged with St. Kilian’s in 1999, and closed its doors except for the occasional use of the chapel. The St. Patrick’s Altar Society is celebrating its 151st year.   Originally the duties of altar society members included washing the altar cloths and cleaning the church, Fitzsimmons Vanden Heuvel said. From there, it became a fundraising group that focused on human concern issues, she said. The group still meets on the second Wednesday of the month at the Erin Town Hall and members raise funds for the Pregnancy Help Center in Hartford. 


Town streets carry old country names such as Connolly Circle and Kilkee Road and mailboxes bear the names of the first settler’s descendants –Stapletons and Kenealys, Coffeys and Whelans. 
 “Erin has kept its Irish character, and they are very proud of their Irish heritage,” said Frederickson.   Her family, which spans six generations in the area, has cultural lines that continue into the neighboring communities of Stone Bank and North Lake.   “At Erin and North Lake schools, there are parents who take their kids out of school for St. Patrick’s Day, that’s the way it is. People here adapt to the Irish culture. They have to if they want to stay,” Frederickson said. 

 Fitzsimmons-Vanden Heuvel cites another example if Irish tenacity in the longnamed Tally Ho Restaurant.   “Three years ago, new owners came into the Town Hall and wanted approval on changing the name of the restaurant to Dunnigans – a bad idea. It’s always been the Tally Ho,” said Fitzsimmons Vanden Heuvel. “They got permission to call it Dunnigans, but when it was sold, the name Tally Ho came back.”