Spirit of Saint Patrick to descend on Tyrone

“ O Danny Boy / The pipes, the pipes are calling / From glen to glen / And down the mountainside.”
From March 13 through March 18, from hill to glen, and down the mountainsides, the spirit of Saint Patrick will bring the blessings of fun, food, family, and faith to the central Pennsylvania community of Tyrone – named after County Tyrone in Ireland.
The fun will commence at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13 with an Irish parade through downtown Tyrone, decorated for the week with Irish flags. Folks interested in sponsoring a $20 Irish flag should secure flag forms at the Chamber office, Wendy’s Joybeans or Alice’s Garden as soon as possible.
Across the years, parades have played a prominent role in Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations. Originating in 1853 among Irish Americans along Fifth Avenue in New York City, these Irish parades often featured families or ethnic groups, decked out in green scarves and shamrocks, walking side by side through the city streets and displaying the name of their Old World Irish Clan on a banner.
The food for Tyrone’s Irish Heritage Celebration will arrive on Thursday, March 15 at the Tyrone Armory in the form of An Irish Stew Celebration. From 5 p.m. until 7 p.m., the Tyrone Community Partnership will host An Irish Stew Celebration in the Tyrone Armory at Logan Avenue and Ninth Street. During this Irish Dinner, Tyrone’s Dance Fusion, High School Pop’s Extension, along with Bag Piper Keith Beisel will entertain Tyrone’s Irish revelers with dancing, singing, and playing as they indulge their Irish appetites at Tyrone’s Armory.
Families will find plenty to occupy their fancies all day on Saturday, March 17 – the actual holiday for Ireland’s Patron Saint Patrick. In the morning, folks can shop for treasures at a fund-raising community yard sale, staged once again in the Tyrone Armory. For $10, people may reserve yard sale tables from which to feature their own family treasures for anyone to purchase.
During the morning and afternoon of Saint Patrick’s Day, families also will have the opportunity to participate in story-telling and face-lifting festivities at Tyrone’s downtown library, or to peruse Irish memorabilia on display at Tyrone’s Historical Society Museum, at the south end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Families who love elegant historical drama can purchase a $24 ticket (per person) for The Irish Eyes Drama and High Tea, set for Saturday March 17. Staged by Drew Baker’s Faces And Places Theatre Group in his new building between Radio Shack and the Armory, this dinner theatre will commence with formal tea food in five courses provided by Livingstone Antiques of Huntingdon, PA. Following the high tea, the curtain will rise on a historical drama entitled Irish Eyes. Set in the attic of an old mansion crowded with antiques, through the eyes of a man and his granddaughter, this historical drama will trace the life of the Irish through their days of poverty, famine, war, and immigration.
During Tyrone’s Irish Heritage Week from March 13 through March 18, some Tyrone families might find the inspiration to trace their own family ancestry back to The Emerald Isle — especially families with the surname of Cochran, Doughterty, Flynn, Kilmartin, McCann, McGovern, McNelis, Meehan, Murray, Sullivan or Walsh.
Already, the family of Tyrone accountant Harry K. Sickler has tracked their ancestry to Irishman Patrick McNelis. The great grandparents of Harry Sickler, Patrick and Roseann McNelis, migrated to America in about 1846 to escape the frightful Irish potato famine. Eventually, Patrick McNelis and his young bride Roseann put down roots in this infant community, established by Jacob Burley in 1850, among the towering Allegheny Mountains of Central Pennsylvania.
Delighted that the hills and valleys of Central Pennsylvania reminded them of their homeland in Ireland, Patrick McNelis and some of his fellow immigrants encouraged community leaders to christen this new community with an old name drawn from an old county in Ireland – Tyrone (Tir-Eaghain).
Once he had planted his roots in the soil of this new land, McNelis and his family built a log cabin home above the Tyrone Railroad Station in the area then known as Colerain Forge. Soon, the McNelis home became an Inn where immigrants and railroad workers traveling West could stop for food, lodging, and a helping hand.
As the decades passed, Patrick and his sons worked on the railroad and helped to set up telephone and telegraph lines in the years following the American Civil War. In addition to his physical labor, with a reputation for honesty and literacy, Patrick McNelis acted as a banker and letter writer on behalf of many of his immigrant Irish friends.
Like many immigrants of that era, Mr. McNelis, his wife, and sons offered themselves in community service. A September 15, 1888 entry in Patrick’s Diary gave testimony to his spirit of service – “on this day, we went to the German settlement (near Reservoir Park) to help the Germans lay out a road.” In subsequent years, Patrick and his family opened the large barn on their Colerain Forge Premises for community square dances, cultural and musical festivals, or simple “talk fests”.
Patrick McNelis, along with a host of other immigrants, help to quarry and haul rocks used in erecting the foundation of Saint Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church. Along with most of the people who immigrated to Tyrone in the days before and after the Civil War, indubitably the Irish proved themselves people of faith.
Quite appropriately, Tyrone’s Irish Heritage Celebration will conclude with an emphasis on faith. Faith will form the theme of the spiritual heritage service set for 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 18 in the Tyrone Area High School auditorium. Father Joseph T. Orr of Tyrone’s Saint Matthew’s Church and of Irish Ancestry himself, will serve as principle speaker for the evening service. Methodist Minister Norman Huff will act as hymn –leader, vocal soloist and master of ceremonies for the event.
Supporting the speakers at this spiritual heritage service will be a diverse group of talented musicians. Among them will be Tyrone’s Allegheny Chorale, directed by Mrs. Debra Huff Estright, along with Tyrone High’s Concert Choir and Pops Extension, directed by Mrs. Catherine Jones Young. The Chorale and High School Choir will offer a potpourri of Irish repertoire, including Irish anthems, the Irish Benediction “May The Road Rise Up To Meet You”, and variations on the eternally popular Danny Boy. Keith Beisel also will be present to offer the Gospel hymn “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.
Since mid-November 2006, organizers of Tyrone’s First Irish Heritage Celebration have combined their creative efforts to offer the people of Tyrone their first ever weeklong Irish Festival in Mid-March 2007. Why not let the spirit of Saint Patrick usher you back in local history during the week of March 13 through March 18? Why not grow to appreciate the blessings of fun, food, family, and faith available in Tyrone, a community with an abundance of Irish tradition? Why not open your heart to the invitation offered in that most beloved of Irish folk songs – But come ye back when Summer’s in The Meadow / Or when this Valley’s hushed and white with snow / ‘Tis w’ell be here, in sunshine or in shadow / O Danny Boy, O Danny Boy, we love you so!