A WEE BIT OF IRELAND IN TENNESSEE
“ERIN GO BRAGH” could be heard from the top of the rolling hills, ringing thru the lush green valleys and in the flower laden hollows when the Irish immigrant railroad workers were having a “wee drop to wet their whistle” on their day off from work. The beautiful land where the railroad was being built during the late 1850’s reminded them so much of their native land that the ancient Irish battle cries of “Ireland Forever” seemed to help quench their thirst for home. That is how Erin received its name, so the story goes. The celebrating lay dormant for more than one hundred years. A young civic minded physician, Oaklus S. Luton came up with a brilliant idea. The way to honor our Irish heritage was with a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. This was in 1963 and the town rallied around the idea. The Chamber of Commerce was the sponsoring agency but the Civitan Club, the Rotary Club, the Jaycees, the Mayor and the Alderman of the City o Erin and the town businesses became very supportive both with volunteers and monetary resources. Soon the schools, the churches, the Home Demonstration Clubs and the town industry, Southern Gage became involved. The local newspaper, the Houston County Times was very involved with advertising and numerous articles about the heritage of our area. The entire hamlet became green as students wrapped the telephone poles with green and white paper, the center stripe of Main Street was painted green and cut-outs of green shamrocks welcomed all to Erin. Leprechauns freely danced thru the streets and had their own parade. They still pose for pictures on our Blarney Stone located on the courthouse lawn.
The first “Wearing of the Green” was celebrated on March 16, 1963. Lucille Clement, a former first lady of Tennessee and a native of Erin, was the guest of honor and grand marshal of the parade. Former governor, Frank G. Clement, also attended and participated in the festivities. Beauty pageant were held and a carnival was erected in the middle of the square, with a ferris wheel, all types of rides, craft booths and the best of food was available from all the church booths. A “Feasting on the Square” was held with all sorts of Irish cuisine. People danced to the music of big bands at the Erin Elementary School. To climax the festivities, an alumni banquet was held at the Houston County High School. Classes as far back as the 1900’s met for fellowship, reminiscing and getting reacquainted. Some of them hadn’t been “home” for years. This same tradition still goes on today, only larger.
The first three years, the celebration was dedicated to three very deserving people. Two of these people, Lucille Clement, a native of Erin and Rep. Ross Bass, though not born in Houston County, he was raised here, graduated from Fairfield Grammar School in McKinnon and attended Stewart High School in Stewart, Tennessee. The third person was Thomas Kieroy, a native of Scotland, a professor at Vanderbilt University, and a personal friend of Dr. O.S. Luton.
In 1966, the first Lord High Mayor was named. The honor went to Dr. O.S. Luton for all his time and energy spent organizing and promoting the festivities. The Lord High Mayor title is the highest award given in Houston County for community service.
In 1974, the first woman, Sarah Summers Hart was named Lord High Mayor. She was also the first Miss Houston County in 1926. Mrs. Hart was very active in the community affairs, her political party and her church.
In 1989, Phil Averitt became Lord High Mayor and the tradition began for the Chamber of Commerce to present the honoree with an Irish green sport coat to be worn at all the activities while the Recreation Club presents a plaque commemorating the honor. If the new Lord High Mayor is a lady, she is also presented with a dozen roses.
The St. Patrick’s Day Irish Celebration that started in 1963 with a one-day affair has mushroomed into three weeks of activities. The Recreation Club sponsors, not just one pageant, but there are eleven starting with Tiny Miss and Mister thru Senior Mrs. Houston County. The carnival comes to town for an entire week of fun and games.
The Houston County Lions Club sponsors two musical shows, one with a gospel and one a blue grass theme. The proceeds go to fund college scholarships for two seniors from Houston County and one from Stewart County.
On the second Friday in March at the Kick Off Breakfast, the Lord High Mayor is announced. Beginning in 1992, the celebration began honoring eight people who have shown outstanding and dedicated service to the community. This award is called the O.S. Luton Emerald Award. All these honors are highly secretive and only the families and the executive board of the celebration know the identity of these people. One of the most exciting moments of the celebration is seeing the faces of these nine people as their biographies are read and their names announced.
On Wednesday morning following the Kick Off Breakfast, a luncheon honoring all the past and the present Lord High Mayors, their spouses and the Emerald Award winners is held at the Erin City Hall. The room is a sea of green as all the past Mayors proudly wear their Irish green jackets to this affair.
The Rotary Club sponsors the Irish Golf Tournament which is held at Paris Landing State Park. The Chamber of Commerce sponsors the Irish Bass Tournament held at Danville Landing.
The Arts Council sponsors “The Irish Trio” band concert on Tuesday of Irish Week. The Houston County High School Band also perform a concert at the high school. Both concerts are free to the public. Adults enjoy the entertainment while the young people have fun at the carnival.
On Friday night before the BIG DAY, the Irish Banquet and Silent Auction is held. With a prime rib dinner and home-made desserts, it is always a sellout, where nearly 250 people attend.
The Irish Celebration is become a home-coming of sorts for many in the community. Class reunions and family reunions are often held during the celebration week.
The third Saturday in March has become a day of celebrating in downtown Erin. Starting with the Leprechaun Parade and the main parade being led by the 101st Airborne Color Guard from Ft. Campbell followed by the Lord High Mayor and St. Patrick in his regal robes of green. The Pastor of the Erin United Methodist Church assumed the roll of St. Patrick each year. The Shrine clowns add merriment and entertainment to the parade. Food and craft booths fill the square, side streets and the park. We do not cancel because of the weather. Snow may cover the ground but it does not dampen the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day. The luck of the Irish has been with us more times than not. The crowd along the 2-mile parade route is estimated at more than 25,000 people.
Our St. Patrick’s Day Celebration has received international acclaim. In 1997, eleven people from Galway, Ireland attended the final week of our gala. We have maintained correspondence with these friendly people and have become fast friends. Several of our local citizens have visited Galway and met with them to renew the friendship. Some of our Irish friends have returned here many more times for visits.
The town fathers are tremendously proud of the way nearly everyone gets in the spirit of the St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, and makes it a rollicking success.
ERIN GO BRAGH!!!!!