Each year, thousands fill the streets of Holyoke for the annual Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade. The second largest parade in the country is renowned for its marching band, traditional Irish mummers, and of course, floats.
The Sons of Erin in Westfield is known for their award-winning floats which, accompanied by a marching unit, carry the city’s Colleen and her court along the two-and-a-half-mile parade route through downtown Holyoke.
Producer Dave Fraser got a sneak peek of this year’s parade float and chatted with members of the Sons of Erin about the group’s history.
Read the full transcript:
Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: It may not look like much at first, but using Styrofoam, some lumber, and spray paint, this group of imaginative people from the Sons of Erin are well on their way to creating this year’s float, which will carry the Westfield Colleen and her court down the streets of Holyoke on March 19th.
Helen Tymeson, Colleen Committee, Sons of Erin: Part of the thing with the Colleens on the float, they love to see the little girls. The little girls love to see them. Some of the little girls dream of being a Colleen, and their dreams actually do come true sometimes, so it’s exciting for them.
Dave Fraser: The tradition of building floats for the parade goes back 40 years for the Sons of Erin.
Gail Britton, Sons of Erin: It started off small, and then the floats actually got really quite large.
And now that our committee has gotten a little bit smaller, the size of the float has decreased.
Dave Fraser: But that hasn’t decreased their spirit.
Parade Audio: In the city of Westfield, all things Irish center around the Sons of Erin.
Dave Fraser: It’s a magical time of year for members of the Sons, whose family lineage traces back to Ireland. They look forward to Saint Patrick’s Day every year with eager anticipation.
John Sullivan, Sons of Erin: I used to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day more than birthdays, Christmas, Easter. I always looked forward to it.
Mike McMahon, Sons of Erin: It means it’ll be busy down here, I can tell you that much.
Jim Mulvenna, Sons of Erin: We’ll be celebrating for a whole, whole month.
Gail Britton: This time of year, you start to, people kind of start coming out of the woodwork. And so, you see people that you haven’t seen in a really long time.
So, it’s kind of like the Sons of Erin becomes almost like a gathering space, for these people who’ve had connections, and they are able to reconnect this this time of year.
Dave Fraser: The history of the Sons of Erin dates back to 1978, when an organizational meeting was held. Notes from that first meeting included objectives of the club, the need to be chartered, how to seek legal counsel, and, of course, what to call themselves.
John Sullivan: Tommy’s father came back from Ireland with a gift with me, with the Irish coats of arms of different families, and on it was the Sons of Erin. So, we were discussing names. I can remember Mac, you had the “Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick,” and Johnny Kane had the “Irish Turf Club.”
And and I said, “Geez, how about the Sons of Erin?” And they went and said, “Nice and short to write on checks.”
Dave Fraser: The Sons, as it is more commonly known, began to hold regular meetings above what was then a donut shop on Elm Street in the city’s downtown.
Founding member Mike McMahon remembers the early years.
Mike McMahon, Sons of Erin: Right there, that was our opening night, I think it was June 26th, 1979. And that was my father on one side, my grandfather in the middle, and me on the outside.
I was 26 then, and I’m going to be 71 next month. So, back then we were the young guys. Now, we’re the old guys.
Dave Fraser: As the membership grew, it was time to expand, and the club was able to purchase this site on William Street in 1984.
Jim Mulvenna, Sons of Erin: It has come a long way, I mean when we first started, we just had a small place, and we got involved in a number of different things citywide, and we got involved with of course, of Holyoke Saint Patrick’s Parade, where we build this float. And we have Colleens and everything that go along with it.
Parade Audio: This year’s float is the grand prize winner.
Dave Fraser: Over the years, the Sons have had a proud tradition of creating award-winning floats for their cities Colleen and her court to ride on.
This year’s float is based on the Tommy Makem song, “Four Green Fields.” The song is about Ireland, personified as an old woman, and its four provinces represented by green fields, one of which remains occupied by the British. Also on the float are flowers, representing the hope for Ireland’s reunification.
Mary Jane McMahon, Sons of Erin: Over the years, in the 40 years, we’ve had children coming in to help, and when they’ve grown up into adults, they’ve come back and had their children come and help.
My son worked on the float, many years ago so, it’s a nice family club tradition.
Dave Fraser: So, what started with a simple idea, discussed by a few guys over some beers, still shines true today.
And although at over 900 members, much larger than the founders envisioned, the Sons of Erin is still a close-knit social community of Irish American descendants, gathering to promote and foster Irish heritage and interests in western Massachusetts.