This year’s Omaha St. Patrick’s Day parade will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 12th at 15th and Jackson.
March 1 kicked off the U.S. celebration of Irish American Heritage Month. Within the month, Omahans can take part in Irish traditions and learn about the deep history of the Irish settlement in the city. Jim Cavanaugh, Douglas County commissioner and founding member of the Omaha Irish Cultural Center, said, “About 25% of Omaha has Irish roots. It’s a very Irish city.”
Omaha businesses, streets and leaders reflect the rich history of Irish surnames, including Brennan, Creighton, Mulhall, Leahy, Fahey, Boyle, Green, Howell, Lynch, Fogarty, Mulligan, Murphy, Mahoney, Moylan and Cavanaugh.
The history began July 4, 1854, when Irish native James Ferry took the founding officials to Omaha via his ferry boat across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs. Early Irish settlers claimed what is now the 14th and Jones area in downtown Omaha, at the time called Gophertown. Gophertown refers to the shelter tunnels the Irish built into the side of the hills due to a scarce supply of wood.
From the beginning, the Irish were the laboring class, building almost everything in early Omaha. They built Omaha’s first territorial capitol building, which doubled as a hotel. This building held the one-year anniversary of the establishment of the Territory of Nebraska. In the 1860s, more Irish immigrants started to settle in Omaha to help build the Union Pacific Railroad, which is still in use today. Ireland was granted independence after winning the war against Britain in 1922. This year is Ireland’s 100th anniversary of independence from the British.
This month, all Omahans can celebrate this history. This will be the 150th year that Omaha’s St. Patrick’s Day parade will be held. This year’s parade will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 12. The parade starts at 15th and Jackson and wraps up around the Old Market.
Timmy Conway, former mayor of Omaha’s sister city Naas, Ireland, will lead the parade alongside Cavanaugh, the grand marshal. Following the parade there will music, dancers and poets at the Field Club in Omaha to celebrate Irish heritage.
Daniel Mulhall, the 18th Irish ambassador to the United States, was expected to come from Washington, D.C., to launch the celebration of Irish American Heritage Month. Mulhall was scheduled to be in Omaha from Feb. 27 – March 1 for various events. He also was set to attend Nebraska’s Statehood Day dinner in Lincoln on Feb. 26.
Mulhall, meanwhile, will be promoting the Huskers’ 2022 season-opening football game in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 27 against Northwestern. Mulhall wants to spread his “Go Big Green” message and encourage Husker fans to attend the game at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Along with the other events this year, Irish Americans in Omaha will also be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the twinning of Omaha and its Irish sister city Naas (rhymes with “face”). Twenty years ago, Cavanaugh introduced then-Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey and then-Mayor Conway of Naas to each other. The two mayors established a sister city connection, inspiring many Irish people to come to Omaha to celebrate by having receptions, dinners and parties.
“That’s the purpose of the Sister Cities Association. It’s an international group that brings people closer together and fosters good relations,” Cavanaugh said. He emphasized that Irish American Heritage Month celebrations are more than just parades, parties and dinners. They’re about understanding the culture and the history behind the celebrations.
Cavanaugh quoted his late grandmother: “You don’t know who you are or where you’re going, unless you know who you were and where you’re from.”
Cavanaugh said all Omahans are welcome to celebrate the great culture and traditions of Ireland. There is something for all ages to take part in throughout March.
“It’s a very open and welcoming celebration of Irish American culture, which is open and welcoming to all other cultures as well,” Cavanaugh said.For questions on events or how to get involved in Irish American History Month, contact Jim Cavanaugh at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-341-2020.