Butte’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in 1882. That year 800 Hibernians – the Irish fraternal organization – marched from Walkerville to Butte in -30 degree temperatures. The usual celebrations centered around a parade, Mass, and perhaps a banquet or ball. Enjoyed by all, these activities were not merely joyous social gatherings. In the early days, they were sponsored by fraternal organizations motivated by Ireland’s fight for independence from England.
The Ancient Order of Hibernians (A.O.H.) were early sponsors of the early St. Patrick’s Day parades. Hibernians are a Catholic, Irish American fraternal organization founded in New York City in 1836 at St. James Church to protect the clergy and Church property from the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant “Know Nothing” Party and its followers. At the same time the vast influx of Irish in the late 1840’s prompted a growth of various social societies in the United States, the largest of which was, and continues to be, the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
In 1908, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick formed in Butte and a banquet was added to the holiday’s festivities. The Friendly Sons formed in Philadelphia in 1771 and functioned as an aid society, assisting Ireland’s Famine victims in the 1840s, victims of earthquake, floods, and natural disasters in the United States, and aiding new immigrants to America. Funds raised at Butte’s Friendly Sons banquets in the 1910s and 1920s were sent to Ireland for relief following the Irish civil war.
By the mid-1910s, the Pearse-Connolly Club sponsored Butte’s parade. This was a politically charged time in Ireland, and most of Butte’s Irish maintained close family ties at home. While Europe was engaged in war against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ireland was fighting for the right of home rule, and later, outright independence from England. In 1915, the Butte Daily Post reported that “one thousand Irishmen and their invited guests, the German and Austro-Hungarian societies” marched “under skies tinged with a summer brightness.” The Irish were so anti-English, that they allied socially – in Butte, anyway – with England’s enemies during World War I.
Three years later, in 1918, the Pearse-Connolly Club was denied a permit to march by Butte’s mayor. Two fears lay at the core of the ban: the impropriety of parading during wartime and the Spanish flu pandemic. The mayor called into question the nature of the parade, stating that “there was opposition to any sort of parade unless it was of a strictly patriotic nature.” The Pearse-Connolly Club responded to the cancellation with a rather threatening “Irishmen and sympathizers, please take notice.” The Pearse-Connollys was a politically group that appealed to younger, working-class Irish, sympathetic with the International Workers of the World (IWW, or Wobblies), who favored an independent Ireland. A third consideration at the time – Butte was still under martial law. The city exploded in riot and 56 men were jailed.
For many years afterwards, St. Patrick’s Day in Butte centered around family celebrations in the home. Although there were few parades, the Friendly Sons continued to host banquets, the Hibernians held their dances, and of course, there was always Mass to attend. In 1968, a loosely organized parade was held by a small group of Butte’s Irish. Finlanders joined the festivities, adding the St. Urho’s Day celebration in the 1970s. The celebration – parade, fun run, and traditional music and dance performances – is no longer driven by the politics of Irish independence, but is a celebration of Butte’s Irish culture.