O’Neill residents are ready to paint the city green

O’NEILL — Fun times for families, friends and visitors will be available throughout the remainder of this week in the “Irish Capital” of Nebraska.

The Holt County seat and economic center of much of north-central Nebraska will celebrate its Irish heritage with activities beginning Tuesday and culminating on Saturday with dozens of events, including a grand parade at 1 p.m. Saturday featuring descendants of John O ‘Neill, who the town is named after, in the procession.

“We’re actually bringing in three of General John O’Neill’s descendants for our parade marshals,” said Lauri Havranek, president and chief executive officer of the O’Neill Chamber of Commerce. “They come from California, Kansas and Mexico.”

O’Neill, who also tried to invade Canada, was originally from Ireland. There are memorials to him in Ireland and his grave is in Omaha.

“Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, they lay a wreath at his grave in Omaha,” Havranek said.

One of the more fun activities will help kick off the week. A class entitled “Irish O’Neill Legends and Love of Lore” will be held at O’Neill’s Northeast Community College on Tuesday, March 14 at 6:30 pm.

“It will be very interesting,” said Havranek. “Natalie Butterfield will talk about St. Patrick’s Day and some of the Irish legends that preceded our community. Her family has been involved in St. Patrick’s Day since the beginning. She grew up with all this ”.

Over the years, O’Neill’s celebration has grown. Now, as many people come back for it as they would for a holiday like Christmas.

“The community really comes together for this,” Ann Krotter said. “They’ve made it so much more about family and things for the kids to come back for.”

Krotter said that for many years she was involved in activities with her family, such as making a wagon for work or an organization or having a son dance on clover.

“I’ve aged a bit now,” she said with a laugh.

Jennifer Asche said what she likes most is seeing all the people coming back, especially the young ones.

“A lot of people get together,” Asche said. “Usually you see people you haven’t seen in a while. They truly have something for everyone.

The center’s activities will begin on Wednesday with the Irish Walk of Fame induction at 5.30pm. It will take place at the corner of Fourth Street and Douglas Street.

Two people are inducted into Ireland’s Walk of Fame every year. Walking from the world’s largest shamrock at the intersection of Fourth and Douglas Streets heading east and west, there are sidewalk plazas honoring the people who have been instrumental in getting the celebration going and maintaining it since the 1960s.

Havranek said the squares are modeled after Hollywood.

“On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, they get a star. On the (O’Neill) Irish Walk of Fame, they get a shamrock,” Havranek said.

A highlight on Thursday will be Kevin and Heidi Cheng performing a concert of Irish music. There will also be Reuben sandwiches, chips and drinks at the O’Neill Community Center. A free donation will be accepted.

“They play everything. They are piano and violin, but they will play Irish songs (Thursday),” Havranek said.

Fridays and Saturdays are full of events.

One of Friday’s highlights is turning the Carney Park pond green at 4:30 pm, similar to how Chicago turns the river green for St. Patrick’s Day.

“We’ll have to see if it’s still frozen,” Havranek said. “This is the plan. Then there is horse green. They use food coloring and massage it into her hair.

Music and entertainment in the pubs in the center also on Friday afternoons and evenings.

“We have lots of activities for families, starting in the morning at 10 with the fun run,” he said. “You have to sign up in advance. There will be no entries on Saturday morning.”

Studio 15 dancers will perform at midday on the Trefoil, followed by the Alumni Irish Dancers, the crowning of the King and Queen and then the grand parade at 1pm

Another highlight on Saturday will be Husker Hoops at 4 p.m., featuring five Nebraska football players, including native son Wyatt Liewer, a Cornhusker wide receiver.

“You definitely want to get your tickets early for that one. Write your name on the ticket, then during the game there will be drawings from those advance tickets. And if your name is drawn, you may have to play for the Huskers while one of them takes time off. It’s a lot of fun stuff.

Other fun events include a magician on Friday night and a ventriloquist on Saturday night, along with many other activities.

“Our theme has basically been rain or snow, we’ll still go,” he said, “unless there’s a lot of snow.”

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