St. Pat’s Day – A Bit Early by Tom Fox
The Philadelphia Inquirer
(Probably from the 1970s)
St Patrick’s Day was celebrated a little early this year by a small circle of Scranton Irish. Shamus Corbett, the most decorated state trooper in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and his pal John (Sharkey) Lydon, an Irish tenor with sky-blue eyes and an insatiable thirst for fine Irish whisky, invited me up to Scranton for this year’s big St. Patrick’s Day Dinner at the Casey Hotel.
“Gov. Thornburgh’s coming,” Shamus Corbett said with a touch of awe. “He’s going to be the main speaker.”
The Scranton Irish are survivors. They worked like hell for Bob Casey, the Scranton attorney, for governor last year. And when a Republican WASP from Allegheny County won the office and all the power that goes with it, damned if they didn’t invite the WASP to be the principal speaker at the big St. Patrick’s day dinner.
Born in Lifeboats
But it figures. The Irish were born in the lifeboats. “There never was any downfield blocking for the Irish. It was all elbows and knees, but that’s how the Irish learned to survive. That’s why the Irish are such masters of American politics.
“Shall I tell the governor to expect you at the dinner?” Shamus Corbett asked.
I said I couldn’t make it. The dinner’s this Saturday night and I’m committed to spend the evening at Joe Hindsley’s saloon, The Fiddler’s Green, out in King of Prussia. It’s the only place to be on St. Patty’s night around here.”
“Well, then,” Shamus Corbett said, “we’ll celebrate a little early. We’ll have a party for Jim Crowley. He’s one of the original Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. We’ll hoist a few to Jim.”
So I drove up to Scranton with Bob Herdelin in his big, fancy Rolls Royce, and Shamus Corbett had a real cork-popper for Jim Crowley at Preno’s, one of Scranton’s finest watering holes.
There was a lot of belting and singing and a whole lot of outrageous Irish stories, all set in the old coal mining town of Minooka (now Scranton’s 24th Ward) where Shamus Corbett was born.
A Cruel Town
“Minooka was a cruel town in a way,” said Shamus Corbett’s brother, Jakey, a car dealer. “The nicknames for some people were brutal. The ugliest man in Minooka was known as ‘Stop-the-Clock’ O’Hara. Oh, in some ways it was a mean, cruel place.”
“It’s true,” said Sharkey Lydon, an excavator. “Carl Sandburg visited Minooka once. He saw two caved-in houses leaning against one another and said, “They look like two Irishmen coming home from a wake.”
The Minooka of Carl Sandburg’s time sounded like an appropriate backdrop for the Irish and their “Trouble.” But the Minooka Irish were a joyous, strong-willed people who lived a day at a time and, somehow, gained incredible strength from adversity.
“It was a poor town, but Minooka produced 17 major-league baseball players,” Shamus Corbett said.
“Steve O’Neill, the Cleveland catcher and, later, manager, and Mike McNally, the Yankee third baseman who was Babe Ruth’s roommate, lived next door to one another in Minooka.
“They were both fine men who outdid themselves providing luxuries for their poor, hard-working Irish mothers.”
Sharkey Lydon laughed. He said that reminded him of the time Steve O’Neill installed indoor plumbing in his mother’s home in Minooka—a luxury not yet enjoyed by the McNallys.
“One day Mrs. O’Neill had Mrs. McNally over for tea,” he said. “The two women drank several pots of tea and late in the afternoon, Mrs. McNally said, “If you’ll excuse me, Mrs. O’Neill, I think it’s time I’d be getting to the back of the yard.”
“And Mrs. O’Neill said, ‘Mrs. McNally, just seat yourself on me new indoor toilet and it’ll be in the back of the yard long before you can get there.’”
Jim Crowley, one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, roared.
“Rockne never told stories like that,” He said.
“Rockne,” said Sharkey Lydon, draining his glass, “wasn’t Irish.”
Contributed by Tom Walsh