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Cover Story

March 15, 2012
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When Irish eyes are smiling

Irish heritage celebrated at annual Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Parade

By Amber Williams

The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick of Central Iowa meets monthly in Des Moines. Last Thursday, they welcomed 2011 Irish Queen Allie Reiter for her last meeting and together they voted on a new queen for this year. Pictured: Chapter President, Ed Modglin, Bob O’Hern, Bill McCarthy, Ed Kelly, Tim Schuck and Allie Reiter. (Cover photo shows FSOSP member Leo Ward marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Des Moines).

The Irish have many traditions, but the one they’re most known and loved for is drinking beer. It’s a running joke that the Irish are expert boozers — that the credentials are engrained in their DNA, passed down from generation to generation and dating back to some sot in Ireland — but just because it’s a joke does not mean it’s untrue.

People who have Irish in their blood are proud of it. And it shows. Irish folks have a famous affinity for alcohol consumption and a commonly known tendency to be stubborn and rowdy — whether they’re drunk or not. Some are said to be too stubborn to die, which is why the Irish seem to also be blessed with a longevity that defies medical claims that the key to a long life is healthy habits… But then again, if you ask an Irishman, he’d tell you beer is good for you.

Take Leo Ward, for example. He’s Irish to the core, and Ward wants everyone to know it. You don’t even have to walk into his home and lay your eyes upon the green Santa Clause figurines that decorate his mantel year round, the green table cloth, the shamrock centerpiece and the St. Patrick’s Day plate on which he eats his muffin, the mug from which he drinks his coffee and the matching napkin he uses to catch the crumbs. No, you don’t even have to go inside to know this is an all-Irish-all-the-time home. That fact waves at passersby in the form of a 20-foot pole flying the Irish flag in his front yard on Des Moines’ south side.

“Everything I have is green,” he said. “It’s St. Patrick’s Day in this house every day. Everything in my house is Irish 12 months a year.”

Ward, who crossed the 80-years-old mark in recent years, fits the old Irish stereotype well — especially when he sports his green suit and an ornery grin that suggests he may have actually robbed it from a drunk leprechaun who passed out prematurely at the last beer bash. (Ha! Imagine. A leprechaun snoozing on the lawn in nothing but his shamrock-print undies, orange beard still dripping with beer foam and an empty bottle of booze in his clutches.)

But old Ward, well, he wears it sharply as he marches down Locust Street in the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick of Central Iowa St. Patty’s Day parade every year in Des Moines.

“I just love the Irish parade,” he said. “The Irish parade is the one to be in. It’s so much fun — you just put on your green and go,” which Ward has done at every St. Pat’s parade since the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick brought the tradition to Des Moines 37 years ago.

A wee lesson in history

The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick of Central Iowa has hosted Des Moines’ annual St. Pat’s parade for more than 30 years, drawing about 130,000 spectators every year.

The Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick (FSOSP) is a national society for Irish men that originated in Philadelphia in 1771. In the last 200-plus years, FSOSP has promoted Irish culture through education and provided aid to the communities in which a chapter exists. It’s a non-denominational benevolent society of men who are older than 17, can trace their Irish lineage and who possess good, moral character, according to Des Moines’ chapter president, Ed Modglin.

FSOSP members meet quarterly to conduct Society business, share fellowship and discuss experiences of common heritage, which pretty much means they sit around drinking beer and bullshitting, Modglin admitted.

“It’s tradition,” he laughed. “We like to be known for being a charitable organization of men who are of Irish decent who like to have a good time but who are also there for the community.”

Raffle drawing

Though some in the Society take their roles more seriously than others, everyone pays their membership dues and contributes to the raffles, which raise money for local children’s causes, Modglin said. The St. Patrick’s Day parade and raffle drawing (which will officially kick off at 2 p.m. at the reception held in the Marriott downtown following the parade) is a significant funding source, contributing to FSOSP’s yearly $15,000-20,000 gift to charity. Raffle tickets can be purchased at the parade from vendors or at the reception.

“We try to pick grassroots charities that do not have a national presence (such as the Des Moines Area Religious Council food pantry, the Brain Injury Association of Iowa, Wildwood Hills Ranch, for at-risk youths, and The Homestead, which aids autism projects). That way it has more of a local impact,” Modglin said. “We prefer 100 percent of the money go toward the causes, so for example, we might spend the money on special soccer balls for kids in wheelchairs instead of just writing that charity a check. We like to do it that way, where we buy the actual thing they need versus just giving them money.”

Incentive to buy a $10 raffle ticket includes prizes of products and services from various local sponsors, cash and two roundtrip tickets to Ireland.

The parade

The small town of Melrose includes a 1963 Andy Griffin cop car, among other vintage vehicles. Melrose is a commanding champion with judges every year, represented by about 120 people — the town’s entire population.

Most of the 130,000-some people who attend the annual St. Patty’s Day parade downtown will likely never be able to actually visit the Motherland of the St. Patty’s celebration, so the parade is the next best thing.

“Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” said Modglin, who has been running the event for the last five years. And, indeed, that’s true, as the massive crowd could not have a greener hue — from T-shirts to top hats, bow ties to shoe laces, Shamrocks on faces and mini Irish flags waving like an excited dog’s tail wagging as the parade rolls by.

“The parade route is a mile long, but the parade itself is a mile-and-a-half,” Modglin said. “Every year we get new entries. This year I wouldn’t be surprised to have more political entries. It’s kind of ebb and flow.”

The ensemble is led by the Grand Marshall then the Irish Queen and followed by FSOSP’s pick for Irishman of the Year (all of whom will be announced at the FSOSP breakfast prior to the parade). The entrants will be judged by local radio and TV personalities in four categories: Best Family, Best Clan, Best Irish Theme and Judges’ Choice.

“They judge who’s the best, who’s the greenest and who the biggest crowd pleasers are,” said Ward, who once held the title of Irishman of the Year himself. His hometown of Melrose (originally deemed Little Ireland due to the high concentration of Irish decedents there), is often the champion year after year — boasting six first place trophies in the 10 years Melrose has had a float, Ward said.

“When we come by, the crowd just goes crazy, ’cause they know we’re gonna do something crazy,” Ward said.

Melrose makes up about a third of the parade, usually spanning the middle of the line with a 1943 green fire truck called the Irish Pumper, a 1963 Andy Griffin cop car, a 1937 street vendor and a 1950 Studebaker, among other Irish additions seen each year. Ward said about 120 people make the 60-mile trek up from his hometown, which is pretty much Melrose’s entire population — 99 percent of which bleeds green Irish blood, he said.

“I was afraid the people of Melrose wouldn’t come up here this year because of the price of gas,” Ward said. “But they found out a couple of bars on the south side (All in the Family and Club 2000) were giving out free green beer, so they’re on their way,” he laughed.

As far as the turnout this year, Modglin said it often depends on the weather, but the fact that March 17 falls on a Saturday could mean a record-breaking crowd is likely to surge the sidewalks and curbs of the East Village. (See the new parade route in sidebar box).

“It’s unbelievable — the crowd,” Ward said. “In Des Moines, there is an awful lot of Irish people, and of course, everybody’s Irish on the 17th.”

The parade conjures such a mob, in fact, that safety is a forefront issue for Modglin and the rest of the FSOSP. In the past, they’ve made attempts at crowd control by using golf carts to keep spectators in check and even to ban candy — neither of which proved to be effective, Modglin admitted.

“I think the mayor was the first one to throw candy that year,” he laughed.

So, as a compromise, the FSOSP decided to only allow parade walkers to throw candy, beads and other prizes, rather than float and vehicle riders. And they’ve enlisted the help of the Des Moines Police Department, which will supply the parade with caution tape that will stretch between pylons, roping off the herd.

In the end, though, Modglin, Ward and the police agree it’s up to the parents to keep a mindful eye and swift hand on their children in order to ensure their safety.

“Even though it runs at about one mile per hour, our organization would rather be known as one that helps local charities versus a parade where someone got hurt or killed,” Modglin said. “We’ve been kicking around ways to control the crowd for several years. We just want everyone to come down and have a good time, and at the same time raise as much money as we can for charity.”

The parade usually consists of more than 100 entries, each posting the $50 fee to enter, which Modglin asserts is money well spent considering the amount of exposure a particular business, organization or cause might get in return… and there’s beer.

“One year we had a float that actually had a pub on it with kegs of beer and tappers, and they just sat up there drinking beer,” Modglin said.

However, the libations might be a bit tricky this year, as the parade’s staging area will be on capitol hill — an alcohol and tobacco free zone that is policed by the Iowa State Patrol. But, the Irish are crafty — sure to figure out some way to sneak their sips. CV



New Parade Route: Staging at Capitol Hill, the parade begins at noon from the corner of East Sixth and Locust Streets and continues west to the Marriott Hotel (floats will continue to East Ninth Street to end the parade and disperse).

The reception will be held from 2-5 p.m. on the third floor of the Marriott featuring a raffle drawing, food and a cash bar provided by the hotel and live Celtic music by Kelly’s Clan in the ballroom.

The parade may be a family affair, but as FSOSP president Ed Modglin says, “Afterward people will typically do what they planned to do for the night, which is go out and get hammered.” If that’s your plan, here are few ideas:



Mickey’s Irish Pub, 206 Third St., 288-8323

First Annual St. Patrick’s Day Block Party with Mickey’s Irish Pub on Court Avenue on Saturday, March 17, with traditional St. Pat’s staples like green beer and Irish entertainment. The day kicks off with a breakfast and green beer at 6 a.m. and a pre-parade gathering with Irish music on the patio at 8 a.m. At noon, “March to Mickey’s” from the Marriott front entrance to Court Avenue immediately following the parade, featuring several local food vendors, green beer, St. Patty’s merchandise and non-stop music entertainment by local bands It’s Complicated, Lesson Seven and Decoy, plus several DJs and headliner Michael Jackson tribute band, Who’s Bad. Local charities, Young Variety and Team Willy K with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, will benefit from the day’s bar tips.

Irish on East Fifth

The entire block from Grand Avenue to Locust Street will be blocked off and the area bars, Quinton’s, Buddy’s, Lime Lounge, The Underground, Locust Street Tap and Blazing Saddle, will be offering drink specials, live music and DJs from noon to midnight with outdoor beer gardens and food vendors. No cover.

Gas Lamp, 1501 Grand Ave., 280-3778

Sport your Irish Colors for the First Annual St. Pabst Day Block Party at Gas Lamp. Gates open at 9 a.m., and the drinking goes till the night ends with non-stop rocking all throughout. Admission is $20 all you can drink and features live music by American Idiots (A Green Day Tribute), Horror Business (A Misfits Tribute), Boom Chick, Strangefellows, Black Box Revelation, DJ Richie Daggers, Lipstick Homicide and Rebel Creek


4th Down Sports Bar, 207 Fourth St., 288-3880

No cover all day, and free food: corned beef scramble breakfast 9-11 a.m., or until it runs out, and specials on Bloody Marys. Quick Irish stew served at noon until it runs out with $5 Irish Car Bombs, $3 St. Patty’s Day shots, $3.50 Guinness, $4 Harp Lager and Southwicks Pints, $5 22-ounce collectible beer stein mugs of green beer, plus live entertainment by the Snacks 5-7 p.m. and DJ Timebomb, 9 p.m.-close.

Trophy’s Sports Bar & Grill, 2701 Douglas Ave., 255-1111

“Less Green For Green” event with Irish music all day. From 9 a.m.-noon, St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, lunch and dinner specials featuring green eggs and ham, choice of Irish stew or salad, fresh hot bread and honey butter, baby red potatoes and corned beef and cabbage, as well as regular menu items. Drink specials on: Jameson Irish Car Bombs, Green Jello Shots, Bush Mills Honey Whiskey and Guinness. Plus, best use of green contest and kilt contest offering special prizes for each place winner in the Shuffle. The St. Patrick’s Day Shuffle includes a different event every hour from 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. — contests include: Football Throw, Baggo, Golden Tee, Big Buck Hunter, Beer Drinking Relays, Legs Eating, Basketball Hoop, Bowling For Beer, Musical Chairs and Golden Tee (Must be over 21). Free entertainment includes Rick O’Reilly’s i-Man Show from 9-10 p.m. and karaoke from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

Mickey Finn’s, 7020 Douglas Ave., 270-8738

Open at 8 a.m. with drink specials all day including 20-ounce draws, bottles and wells for $3 and $1 green Jello shots, plus special give-a-way prizes such as T-shirts, hats and beads throughout the day. Karaoke from 9 p.m. to close.

The Standard, 203 Third St., 243-4456

Bottomless martinis and green beer for $25. Patty Party Starters for $10 which consists of aT-shirt, face painting and a green beer. Plus, a featured Celtic menu prepared by an authentic Irish chef.


Billy Joes Lounge, 1701 25th St. West Des Moines, 223-9944

Corned beef and cabbage served all day, Irish costume contest, including sexiest green outfit and most authentic use of green. Winners receive a $75 gift certificate. The party starts at 7 p.m., featuring $1-off whiskey and beer.

Mickey’s Irish Pub, 1800 N.W. 86th St., Clive, 252-0248

St. Pat’s Eve party on Friday, March 16, will involve tapping the green Bud Light at midnight, $1 draws of green beer till close, followed by “Iowa’s Largest St. Patrick’s Day Celebration” on Saturday, March 17. Starting at 6 a.m., green eggs and ham will be served all morning. Live performances by The Entertaining Andy Paczak at 3:30 p.m. inside, and Toaster plays in the tent outside.

Mickey’s Irish Pub, 50 S.E. Laurel St., Waukee, 987-9604

Breakfast and green beer served all morning starting at 7 a.m. The Bud and Miller girls will be bringing out goodies in the afternoon. The Iowa Scottish Bagpipes and Drums will play at 1:30 p.m. followed by Throwing Toast and Rock Puppets from 6 p.m. to midnight. (No minors allowed after 2 p.m.)

The Cab, 8460 Birwood Court, No. 900, Johnston, 331-6611

Opens at 11 a.m. Live Music from Lesson7 starts at 9 p.m. $3 Tall boys and $4 car bombs.


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