In America, St. Patrick’s Day walks—sometimes stumbles—a thin line between a celebration of ancestral roots and libation-soaked lunacy. Every St. Patrick's Day, Cumberland serves up generous portions of both. This year the celebration will take place on Saturday March 16th.
This year marks the 15th annual Hooley Pub Crawl, an all-day party where thousands of green-clad revelers take to the streets of the Queen City adorned with beads, floppy top hats, and flashing leprechaun and/or shamrock pins.
The Irish and the Irish-for-a-day sip velvety pints of Guinness, down shots of Jameson’s, and follow the popular local pied pipers of “trad” music, Shanty Irish, from bar to bar, swaying, dancing, and belting out “Finnegan’s Wake” with abandonment.
No one seems to care that the singing is off key (by 8 p.m., many folks are seeing rainbows, searching for pots of gold; this is when a pub crawl truly becomes “a crawl”).
So, what exactly is a “hooley”?
“Hooley is an Irish slang term, and I don’t know if it’s for ‘hooligans’ or not,” says Ed Mullaney, Cumberland’s downtown manager.
“We termed it as an Irish party.”
An online definition states: “Hooley ('hoo·lee’) n. 1. a party or celebration, a céilí (Ireland), 2. a boisterous party; a noisy, merry party (New Zealand), 3. a wild party (Australia).”
Over the last 15 years, Mullaney has seen the “wild party” grow from a small gathering to a regional festival that has taken on epic proportions, one that, amazingly, has been mostly incident free.
“You have so many guests that come here, and they are treated with open arms, and everybody is joyful,” says Mullaney, whose ancestors immigrated from Roscommon, Ireland, in the 1840s to work the railroads on Mt. Savage.
“I think we put our best foot forward, and it shows a lot of civic pride. And we get to share that with not only people from Maryland, but with people from other states,” he continues, adding, “I am certainly proud to be Irish.”
Sales of souvenir T-shirts and donations raised by Irish Shanty throughout the day support local charities. A sister event, the Hooley Plunge, held in early March at nearby Rocky Gap State Park, has generated more than $100,000 for Special Olympics.
Natalie Chabot, born and raised in Cumberland, now lives on the Eastern Shore. However, each year, she makes a pilgrimage to Allegany County to attend the Hooley. For her, it’s a homecoming.
“It’s fun and colorful—it’s a celebratory time where you can get together and let your hair down,” she says. “Our family comes together—we’re sprinkled all around Maryland and the East Coast.”
Chabot, who, too, has Irish blood, sees the Hooley as a way to pay homage to the holiday’s historic aspect.
“There’s a lot of the heritage and tradition, much of which is unknown,” she says. “Cumberland was a pathway to the West, and the C&O Canal was a part of that.”
Irish were among the immigrants who worked the coal mines of western Maryland, laid railroad tracks across the mountains, and, before the rise of the Iron Horse, dug the canal.
(Several years ago, Shanty Irish and the Ancient Order of Hibernians raised money to erect a Celtic cross to honor these men and their families. The monument is part of the C&O Canal Park.)
But back to today and, arguably, the most important part of this tale: the secret to surviving the Hooley.
“Moderation, common sense, and have somebody ready to drive you home,” says Mullaney.
I would add: three corned beef sandwiches and this sound advice from a good friend: two Excedrin and a large glass of water before you go to bed.
Top o’ the morning!
For more information, call 301-772-5500 or visit www.mdmountainside.com.