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Celebrating 60 years of Red Wing Irish pride

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The "Leprechaun List," handwritten in green ink, names all the attendees of early Red Wing Irish events. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 7
Four Irish sisters from left to right: Mayme McCusker, Madge Harris, Liz Bache and Sadie Bowen. Courtesy Kay Kuehl3 / 7
Red Wing Irish Queen Lenore Thacker and King Mike Villaran walk in the 2007 St. Patrick's Day Parade in St. Paul. Courtesy Abby Villaran4 / 7
Scrapbooks and historic material capture 60 years of memories for the Red Wing Irish. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia5 / 7
Kay Kuehl has been part of the Red Wing Irish festivities since the 1960s when her parents brought her to events. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia6 / 7
The 2018 Irish royals are David Grove and Olivia Fitzpatrick. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia7 / 7

 One day in 1957 three Irish girls got together and talked about St. Patrick's Day.

"I knew there was a St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston so I just said to the two of them 'why don't we have a parade?'" Marcy Doyle recalled.

Doyle and her friends Dorothy Holmes and Betty Hoyt decided a parade wouldn't work, there just weren't enough Irish people in town. So they threw a party instead.

The history

That year, St. Patrick's Day fell on a Sunday during Lent, which limited their drinking and dining options. They decided to meet at Vieths in Hager City because the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of La Crosse, John Patrick Treacy, was lenient and would grant them a dispensation. (He even came to the event.)

Doyle, Holmes and Hoyt sent out penny postcards under a pseudonym "The Three Leprechauns" to invite their friends to the party in Wisconsin and help root out any Irish people they didn't already know.

At church the next Sunday, Doyle said people were grumbling about whoever had the nerve to invite them to a German bar on St. Patrick's Day, but once the girls came forward, everyone got into the fun.

Sixty years later, the Red Wing Irish get-together is still going strong.

The royalty

Doyle, Holmes and Hoyt (the "leprechauns") continued to organize St. Patrick's Day parties until Doyle decided it was too much work. She figured if they crowned some royalty — a king and a queen — they could distribute some of the responsibility.

The first RW Irish royalty were crowned in 1959: Dennis Kiley, king, and Pat Cassidy, queen. As a joke, Doyle was crowned in 1960, which roped her back onto the planning committee for another three years. Holmes was crowned in in 1965 and Hoyt somehow avoided being crowned.

Royalty can only be crowned once and they receive their crowns, capes and sceptres to march in the parade following the year of their nomination. It's traditional for the king and queen to be unrelated to each other by marriage and to join the planning committee for three years after being named.

Traditions

The RW Irish have met at Andy's, the St. James Hotel, Nybo's and Randy's among other local institutions. Their traditions grow and change depending on whose creativity is steering the ship for that year.

At some point, they started to issue the queen's husband a "Blarney stone" to keep safe for a year while everyone else tried to steal it. RW Irish historian Kay Kuehl (crowned queen in 1972) said that the Blarney stone they have today isn't original, and they've lost quite a few to mischief over the years.

The RW Irish predate the St. Paul Parade and have been marching there for 52 years, missing only a few due to weather. They used to block off a downtown street for a hometown Irish Day parade, but due to rising permit costs, today's parade is mostly just marching at a set time from one bar to the next.

Eager to get together and celebrate, the group also hosts a "Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" on Sept. 17.

Becoming family

"I think people think of it as being a wild crazy party — it's families, it really is," said Kuehl.

Many families, like Kuehl's, have had up to four generations participe, and they're always looking to grow.

"We want young people, we want people who are energetic that will keep the tradition going," said Dan Barry (crowned king in 2011). "Because 60 years is something to be very proud of, I think."

There's a sense that on St. Patrick's Day, everyone's Irish, and that's true at the RW Irish events as well.

"If she's a little Irish, she's real Irish," said Doyle, encouragingly.

To become royalty, you have to have some degree of Irish blood in you, Barry said, but everyone is welcome to attend one or all of the St. Patrick's Day events.

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Red Wing Irish:

8 a.m. Breakfast at Randy’s

9 a.m. Bus departs for St. Paul Parade

Noon. March in the St. Paul Parade

3:30 p.m. Dan’s Bar (located in New Trier, Minn.)

4:30 p.m. Social hour at Andy’s Bar

6 p.m. Red Wing Irish Parade to the Elks Lodge

6:30 p.m. Corned beef and cabbage buffet

7 p.m. Irish music and dancing

7:30 p.m. Close of silent auction

Call Megan Simonson at 651-380-0909 or email megansimonson05@gmail.com for dinner and/or bus reservations.

An earlier version of this story misidentified Betty Hoyt, Lenore Thacker and Kay Kuehl.