by CLIFF and NANCY HILL
GeneAnn Schaefer of Courtland & Main’s Frame and Mat Shop has told us for years that we really should attend the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Conklin, Michigan.
So this St. Patrick’s Day (Tuesday morning) the Squire took a 17-mile road trip west of Rockford to discover just where the heck Conklin, MI was. Turns out Conklin is a little farming community in the middle of apple country. Main Street holds a feed mill, a seed store, a general store, and the post office along with its one claim to fame, Fenian’s Irish Pub.
Fenian’s is not just any Irish pub; it has been voted the number one Irish pub in Michigan. It is an authentic family-owned and operated Irish Public House. It also has the reputation of being the “Home of Irish music in West Michigan.”
Fenian’s is the official or unofficial, if you will, sponsor of the town’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The 22nd Annual “Wearin’ of the Green” Parade turned out to be, as touted by Schaefer, “One hoot of a parade.” Mind you, Main Street is only three blocks long. The parade kicked off promptly at 11 a.m. from the north end of Main Street, with the intention of walking the entire three-block distance.
Leading the parade was 2009 Grand Marshal Rob Schaefer (husband of Grand Marshalette, GeneAnn) proudly waving the Irish Tri-Color flag. Following right behind was Fenian’s Fiddle & Bodhran Band, along with the Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School Marching Band playing Irish tunes. The Drum Major was directing the band with an authentic Irish Shillelagh. The cast of characters was as short as the parade route itself. There were a few dogs pulled in wagons, one antique car, a couple of bikes, and a flat-bed truck whose riders were tossing green beaded necklaces and green carnations to the spectators.
What made this parade special was a throng of Irish and would-be-Irish, all clad in various shades of green, which joined in the parade as it proceeded down Main Street. Ethnic origin aside, on this day, everyone present was Irish.
As Irish luck would have it, Fenian’s Pub is smack-dab in the middle of the route and the parade ended right there. We learned that in years past not one parade had gone the entire distance. It seemed that all in attendance had one thought in mind and that was to officially begin the celebration with a cold pint of Guinness (it was 70 degrees after all). A huge line formed outside Fenian’s front door and participants were allowed entrance as space permitted.
Short and sweet, mostly adults-as the kids were in school-no commercial hype, just a huge group of people enjoying one another’s company and having a great time.
On the ride back home to Rockford, your reporters (one was the designated driver) had the thought, “What a great event this could be in Rockford on St. Patrick’s Day.” Rockford takes second place to no one with great eateries some that also serve liquid libation. Perhaps they could take the lead in organizing such an event. Perhaps the most Irish of all Rockford businesses, Byrne Electric, could be persuaded to be the official sponsor.
As we continued home, we even conjured up a parade route. Kicking off at 11 a.m. from the Rockford Rotary Pavilion the route would proceed south to Bridge Street, then east to Main, then north to the corner of Courtland and Main (three blocks long, short and sweet). Along the way participants would pass Arnies, Vitale’s, Dam Dogs, The Rogue River Tavern, Epic Coffeehouse, Sam’s Joint, and The Corner Bar. Not on the parade route but not to be forgotten would be The Peppermill Grill, Frenz Coffeehouse, Marinades, Grill One Eleven, Herman’s Boy and Reds on the River (who might consider changing their name for the day to Greens on the River).
The parade would end right around the lunch hour and it would be hoped that participating restaurants, in addition to their regular menus, would offer traditional Irish fare on this special day (don’t forget the Guinness and green beer).
Pipe dream? Pie-in-the-sky? (Don’t forget one of us was the designated driver.) Consider the possibilities and think outside the box. We’re just thinking out-loud here and, if not a possibility, we’ll just return to Conklin next year on St. Patrick’s Day. Either way, we’ll see you there.