Celtic celebrations have a long history in Glendive

Sunday, July 14, 2019
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Top, L to R: Kelly Buechler, Fay Dear and Brent Oakland ski on 2x4s during the St. Patty’s Day parade in 1986. Below: Then-Mayor Frank Burke watches over the 1986 parade.

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Ranger-Review file photo

Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison congratulates Mayor for the Day Mary Harstad during the 2003 Celtic celebration

Editor’s note: Since its founding in 1881, Glendive has been home to a wide variety of groups and organizations. This diverse cast of characters has come from all backgrounds, bringing with them a multitude of customs and traditions.

Over time, various celebrations giving the people of Glendive reasons to enjoy themselves and enjoy new experiences have come and gone.

To keep these traditions in memory, the Ranger-Review will be running a series on events that once were held in Glendive and for one reason or another, have fallen by the wayside.

This is the third in the series.

Glendive has had a long, intertwined history with Celtic culture. Since before the town’s founding, Irish and Scotsmen have come to the area, either just passing through or putting down roots over the years.

One of the first Irish visitors to the area was Sir George Gore, who came on an obnoxiously large hunting trip in 1854. According to a disputed legend, Gore gave the town its name by naming the area after his home of Glendale. After the town was built, the name was adopted as “Glendive”.

Also a Scottish native, Andrew Dawson served as commandant of Fort Benton for the American Fur Company, and it’s for him that Dawson County was named in 1869.

With a history tied so tightly to the Irish, of course Saint Patrick’s Day has been one of the biggest celebrations in town. In the 1970s, the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations inspired other cultural events like Norwegian Days and Oktoberfest.

However, unlike those celebrations, St. Patrick’s Day is still celebrated in Glendive, although events aren’t as complex and intricate as they were several decades ago. Today’s celebrations are still a lot of fun however, with the “Mayor for a Day” honor, the annual pub crawl and the local groups and individuals who travel to different places in town to entertain at nursing homes, bars, etc. The St. Patrick’s Days of old also included activities such as parades, a large dinner banquet, nohost martini socials, keynote speakers and a full pipe band that played throughout the day.

With what records are available, it’s difficult to be certain when the local celebrations started, either 1969 or 1970. It is also uncertain who the original planners of the event were, though Francis McCarvell is credited as the general chairman for the 1971 celebrations.

Come the 1980s, event organizers started to worry that those who weren’t of Irish decent may have been feeling left out of the fun and games, so the event was re-branded as the Eastern Montana Irish for a Day celebration, inviting everyone to come and be Irish for the day.

While the celebrations went on strong for quite a few years, interest in the event began declining sometime around the late 1980s until it was really just a shell of its former self. Some years, heavy snow and cold temperatures would keep all but the most devout Irishwannabes inside. The parades got smaller and eventually stopped and it looked like the event would die quietly.

However, the event got a much needed shot in the arm in 2003, when Glendive local Pat Mischel and Dawson County Arts Unlimited spear headed the revival of the celebration.

For the revival, the City of Regina Pipe Band, a 20-piece marching band, came and played several shows, much as they used to during the original celebrations.

Since it’s revival, the event has gone almost every year, with usual activities involving the Mayor for a Day contest, the Laramie bagpiper playing at various places across town and, of course, the pub crawl.

The pub crawl has faced some difficulty though. In 2016, the event was canceled due to heavy snowfall and its existence was questioned in 2015.

The Glendive City Council in 2015 wondered if the pub crawl was necessary after the previous year’s event resulted in incidents of assault, vandalism, large amounts of litter and even a couple of hospitalizations due to injury.

“Last year was a mess, and it was irresponsible. It could be done better,” said then councilman Matt Hull.

However, council members did eventually approve an open container waiver for the pub crawl but with some major changes. The Glendive Police Department posted three extra patrolmen and glass containers were not covered by the open container waiver. The time for the waiver was also shortened by one hour and the Oasis bar hired extra security for that night and following weekend. Police chief Brad Mitchell added that the police would have a zero-tolerance policy for glass containers outside.

Overall, the pub crawl that year was greatly improved. Though participation numbers dropped, the local bars still reported good business and happy customers, the extra patrolmen were treated respectfully and even thanked for their service, there was significantly less litter and the police department reported a drastic drop in citations for the night. It’s quite likely that all the changes made saved the pub crawl.

St. Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, though Glendive’s celebrations usually fall on a weekend around that date. The event began in Ireland in approximately 1681. March 17 is thought to be the death date of the Christian Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

Traditionally, the holiday serves as a time to commemorate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland but has also come to be a celebration of Irish heritage. It is currently the most celebrated national festival in the world.

Reach Hunter Herbaugh at rrreporter@ rangerreview.com.