Joseph W. Ryan: St. Pat's memories live on through years

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PITTSFIELD — St. Patrick's Day is a day that brings out the P's. Now before you go jumping to the wrong conclusion, I'm talking about parties, pitchers of green beer, patriotic songs, Patrick's Pub, parades and plenty of other things. Maybe let's throw in a prayer or two. Patrick is a saint, even though most of us who celebrate the day aren't.

Thinking back to my time at Providence College and our annual trips around this time to New York City for the NIT, and our basketball success during my years there, the memories of spending Paddy's Day in New York always comes to mind. The Big City had plenty of Irish bars and the drinking age was 18 back then. The parade marching by added to the festivities and I began to realize that it was pretty cool to be Irish.

It was pretty cool being a Friar in those years, too. Providence College had only about 2,000 students and put Rhode Island on the map with its upset victories over some major college basketball teams. The whole state caught Friar Fever. The NIT games were played at Madison Square Garden, but there was one game in particular I remember that we played against local New York City team.

FRIARS INVADE NYC

Thinking of themselves as the "home team" they had about 3,000 students sitting together, and they all stood up and cheered as their team entered on the court. About a minute later, the Providence College band struck up "The Saints Go Marching In" and the Friars entered. The place erupted. More than 14,000 tickets had been distributed through the PC athletic office. It was as if the whole state had packed up and headed to New York to root for Providence and celebrate St. Patrick. We won the game and went on to win the tournament. There was a party and a half that night.

The years have rolled by. The Blarney Room at Brodie became the March 17 place to be while it lasted. In later years, Patrick's Put, with Andy Kelly and the Brodie Mountain Boys bringing back the memories and letting me and my banjo sit in for a few songs, has been my go-to- place. I guess I qualify as a Brodie Mountain Boy emeritus.

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But there was one year in the early 1980s when the Paddy's Day celebrations were greatly curtailed. We do live in the Berkshires and it does sometimes snow. Well, this particular year we had a whopper. A Northeaster' came blowing up the coast and dumped more than a foot of the white stuff. We awakened to being snowed in, at the mercy of the snow plower, and NO SCHOOL! My two kids, one in second grade and the other in kindergarten at Pomeroy School (where my dad had once been principal), thought that this St. Patrick guy must have been important because there was no school. Why would I tell them anything different?

IRISH SHOW FORT

We ventured out after a hardy breakfast and tested the snow. It was good packing and we decided that we would build an Irish snow fort. Snowball after snowball was rolled and moved into place. As we progressed, some of the neighborhood kids began showing up and wanted to help. Young Joe's dear friend Michael Peverett came from across the street and JP and Heather Lipa came over to help, too.

With the base in place I brought out a four-by-four piece of plywood for a roof and we made an enclosed snow building in a corner of the fort. Of course as we progressed, there was a running commentary of how we had to protect ourselves from the "enemy." Many snowballs had to be stockpiled to ward them off.

Then we decided that a lookout tower was needed. That piece of plywood was plenty sturdy so we surrounded it with snow squares formed from a cardboard box, and now we had a study tower to "protect" whomever was on guard duty! An old stepladder made a great staircase for access to the loft. We then added one more square for the highest spot and proudly implanted an Irish flag to wave over our creation. One last bit of decorating was an attempt to plant a shamrock with food coloring. At least it was green!

To be sure, the celebrations were muted. Hot chocolate became the beverage of choice. But the memories that were created that day live on in the family. I'm sure St. Patrick was smiling down on Jason Street that day.

A long-time Pittsfield resident and former City Council president, Joseph W. Ryan writes an annual St. Patrick's Day column for The Eagle.


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