O’NEILL — St. Patrick’s Day here is more than just a holiday — it’s an all-out event.
While revelers across the country may celebrate with green clothing and corned beef dinners — and maybe a green beer or two — the Irish capital of Nebraska takes it to the next level.
An influx of visitors from the surrounding area and other states descended on the the town of 3,700 on Saturday — the main day of festivities during a four-day observance of all things Irish. The Shamrock Fun Run, Irish dancers and all the reubens and corned beef you could handle were just the start of the celebration.
The Grande Parade really brought out the crowds. Though Saturday afternoon was cold with a frigid wind, Douglas Street was lined with easily 1,000 people, some huddled together under blankets. Floats decorated with shamrocks and leprechauns displayed this year’s parade theme of “Live the Dream: One I’ll Never Forget.”
And, of course, O’Neill community celebrity Leo Matthews rode his dyed-green horse through the parade to the cheers and delight of onlookers.
There was plenty to do after the parade finished up as well. Some people headed right to the St. Patrick’s Day parties and live music performances at the local bars, while others took advantage of the fun, family-friendly options across town.
A children’s carnival, sponsored by the homeschooling group C.L.A.S.S., was held at the Northeast Community College gymnasium. Children used tickets to play games, interact with animals in a petting zoo, get their faces painted and take horse and pony rides. A variety of concessions were also offered.
The annual Husker Hoops competition took place a few blocks away at the O’Neill High School gymnasium. Hundreds of attendees cheered as the O’Neill Lions Club all-stars took on seniors from the Husker football team in a friendly, if somewhat silly, basketball game sponsored by the Lions Club.
Event chair and Lions Club member Delray Kumm said half of the proceeds from Husker Hoops would go to Team Jack, a charity for pediatric brain cancer.
“The Huskers always win. But we don’t play competitively; it’s just for fun,” Kumm said.
The final score was a little bit closer than it probably would have been, if not for some 20-point and three-and-a-half point shots, he said. The Huskers still managed to scrape by with a win of 80-78.
By the time Husker Hoops had concluded, the bar scene in O’Neill was jumping. At 6 p.m., there were already 200-300 revelers packed into the Chesterfield West bar. All of the facilities’ tables and chairs had been removed, and the drinks were flowing. In fact, all of the taverns in O’Neill seemed to be doing brisk business, as partygoers hopped from bar to bar, many walking or utilizing a shuttle service set up especially for the weekend.
Overall, the annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities in O’Neill were a rousing success. The town’s Irish founder, John O’Neill, probably would have been proud of the sense of community as well as the celebration of his Emerald Isle heritage.