Toledo Irish: Twenty Years of Toledo Hibernian St. Patrick Celebrations 1990 ~ 2010
By Maury Collins
On March 10, 1990, the newly founded Lucas County AOH and LAOH divisions held the first of its’ twenty St. Patrick’s festivals. The Toledo Blade had an article about the event the Thursday before in which they admired the chutzpah of a new group calling their first event the “First” Annual St. Patrick’s Festival.
The first festival was held at St. Clement Hall on Tremainsville Road. It was hosted by Ancient Order of Hibernian (AOH) division President, Bill Walsh, and LAOH division President, Eileen Kelly.
John Connolly and Ted McHugh did a live broadcast of their radio show, Echo’s of Ireland. Toledo Mayor, John McHugh, a first-generation Irish American, was there with his mother, Catherine McHugh, to present a proclamation from the City of Toledo. Entertainment was provided by John Connolly and the Limerick Rakes, the Central Catholic High School Glee Club and Irish dancers from the O’Hara Dance School.
How did this all come about? Here is the story in the words of Sister Ann McManus:
I recall how the first Hibernian St. Patrick’s Festival came about. It started twenty years ago. Four of the Hibernians: Bob O’Connell, Bill Walsh, Jim Kelly and Sister Ann McManus were in a restaurant called Chicago. The discussion was about having a festival or other ways to help make the Irish Culture grow in Toledo. We started to talk and all kinds of ideas came out and we put them all on a napkin.
What a valuable piece of information for history that napkin would be if we had saved it. We started talking about a place. We thought of St. Clement Hall and Father Jim Auth was in favor. Then we decided to divide the jobs up.
Jim Kelly got the Kanery boys to cook and Jim and his crew took care of that. Bob O’Connell said he would take care of the vendors since he was going to be one himself. We had eight vendors and they fit into the hall. Bill Walsh took care of the ads and the programs. His soon to be father-in-law, Jim Richards, helped with the printing.
Many of the Hibernians went to Rossford on many Sundays to fold and staple the programs. The entertainment was the Central Catholic Glee Club, Irish dancers and John Connolly, who did his radio show live and then performed with his group. All of the members pitched in and some of the people who did some work for me were fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins of our present members. A great bunch of workers.
We put a dream on a napkin and look what happened. The dream has come true thanks to the many volunteers, who come back every year to keep the dream alive.
The event soon outgrew St. Clement Hall and was moved to Lourdes College, where we had a headline act, The Makem Brothers! Lourdes, seeing our success and the success of the Toledo Irish American Club’s summer festival, decided that they would take over the bar and keep the profits from it.
The Hibernians moved to the Blessed Sacrament Community Center in DeVaux Village. This was a good move since many of the members were members of Blessed Sacrament Church. The Community Center ran into financial difficulties and closed in 2003.
The Hibernians moved to Cambridge Hall on Alexis. The Hall was part of a K-Mart shopping center, so there was plenty of parking. In 2005, Father Dennis Hartigan was installed as President of Central Catholic High School and pastor of the Historic Church of St. Patrick. He attended the St. Patrick’s Festival, observing how crowded the place was.
Father asked me if I would be interested in a larger venue, namely the Sullivan Center at Central. When I explained that the festival was a cultural event with low profit and the Sullivan Center would certainly out of our reach, he told me to call him. He would make it affordable to us. The ad the Hibernian ran featured a picture of an Irish Traveling People’s covered wagon with the headline “On the move again.”
The move to the Sullivan Center lasted from 2006 until 2010. Brigid’s Cross was brought in as the headline group, along with local Irish groups. The Mud Hen mascot became a regular, which delighted the kids.
Because of the extra space available, the “Kid’s Korner” was expanded. Toledo Irish restaurants became vendors and set up food areas, relieving the Hibernians from cooking.
The Hibernians traditionally donated $1.000 to the Historic St. Patrick’s Church from the profits. The expanded venue allowed for an essay contest with four $500 scholarships. Sherri McNeill and Mike Cassidy set up an “All Things Irish” art contest. Open to all students in Northwest Ohio or Southeastern Michigan grades 1 through 12. Three winners came from each group: 1st ~ 5th Grades; Middle School and High School, 1st place ($75.00), 2nd place ($50.00), 3rd place ($25.00). An art supply package was awarded to the school of the top winner from each group. There was also a raffle with the prize a trip for two to Ireland.
The Hibernians were the first and only “outside” group allowed to use any of Central’s facilities. The gentleman in charge of grounds at Central decided that the liability of an outside group using the Sullivan Center was too great and the Hibernians were not allowed to sign a contract for 2011. In the meantime the Toledo Irish American Club pretty much folded and cancelled their Summer Irish Festival.
Tom McCabe, the manager of the Hibernian St. Patrick’s Festival, pushed to move it to the summer. That ended a twenty year run of the Hibernian’s St. Patrick’s Festival, which traditionally was held the week-end before St. Patrick’s Day.