The Tradition Begins

It started out as a passing thought. Many great ideas do.  Forty years ago this month, the very first Dublin Georgia Saint Patrick’s Festival began.  Billed as the longest celebration of Irish heritage in the world, with the possible exception of the mother country of Irishmen everywhere, the festival has been a time when all Dubliners and Laurens Countians can enjoy the revelry, fun and festive atmosphere of the land of Erin.   The festival is all about traditions, traditions of heritage, harmony and merriment.

Though it is the oldest Dublin in the United States and in 1966, the largest Dublin in the country, Dublin, Georgia had no St. Patrick’s Festival.  Dick Killebrew, (left) radio station W.M.L.T.’s morning radio personality celebrated St. Patrick’s day by playing Irish music and telling Irish stories and jokes.  Gradually it occurred to Killebrew that the city needed to have a celebration of its Irish heritage. After all he was in Dublin.   He enlisted the aid of Ed Hilliard, the station manager, and with the help of Anne Everly and other members of the station’s staff, the wheels were set in motion.  W.H. Champion, editor of the Dublin Courier Herald, was asked to join in the establishment of the festival.  Representatives of civic clubs were invited to join Killebrew, Hilliard, Champion and their staffs, and on January 31, 1966, the St. Patrick’s Festival was official born. 

The first event of the first St. Patrick’s Festival was Antique Show, sponsored by the Dublin Service League.  The fair in its second year hoped to draw a host of out of town visitors to the National Guard Armory on March 9th and 10th.  Next the Dublin Fine Arts Association sponsored  a sidewalk art contest which was held in front of the then empty Carnegie Library Building (now the Dublin-Laurens Museum.) Christine Monds, Ann Pelt and Mrs. Bush Perry led the event which drew thirty artists from around the state.   Both amateur and professional artists displayed their best works for all to see.   A square dance demonstration and dance was held at the V.A. Hospital for the public on 

The mothers and fathers of students of Susie Dasher School entertained a large crowd with a pick up basketball game at the Oconee High School gym.  The fifth event on the schedule was one of the most popular events in the 41-year history of the festival.  The Exchange Club of Dublin put on its first annual pancake supper in the cafeteria of Central Elementary School on Tuesday night.  After the pancake supper, came the forerunner of the Ball and Bash.  Band leader Ted Weems and his orchestra provided musical entertainment at a dance held at the Moose Club.  Weems became a popular band leader in the 1930s, primarily on radio with Jack Benny, Perry Como and Fibber McGee & Molly.  

On Wednesday, the Kiwanis Club sponsored the first Leprechaun Contest and a  movie at the Martin Theater where the admission was free - the popcorn, candy and cokes were not.    The mothers of Washington Street School sponsored a Fashion Show at the school.  As the festival progressed toward a climax, the first Joint Civic Luncheon was held at the Elks Club with music by the DHS Chorus led by Mrs. Edna Champion.  Merchants got in on the action and staged a city wide sale.  Now there’s a good idea for all us shoppers.  What happened?  St. Patrick’s Day ended with the first Irish Stew Supper, not at the traditional site at Christ Episcopal Church, but at the American Legion Hall, then located on North Jefferson Street in the shopping center anchored by Max Brown Pharmacy and Hank’s IGA.  During a lull before Super Saturday only one event was held.  The Dublin Jaycees sponsored the Miss Dublin Pageant at the Dublin High School Auditorium.   Beverly Young, a senior at Dublin High School,  was selected as the winner and awarded a $500.00 scholarship and a trip to the Miss Georgia Contest.  Joyce Grinstead was the first runner-up.  Gail Haskins, of Dudley High School, finished third. 

The festival culminated not on Sunday as it does today but on Super Saturday March 19th.  Precisely at 10:00 a.m., or somewhere close to that time, the first siren began to wail and the parade procession began along Telfair Street.  A pesky drizzling rain and cold March winds couldn’t deter the participants and parade goers.   Leading off the parade was a color guard and the Air Continental Band of Warner Robins with a compliment of bagpipes and kilted bandsmen.   The one-hour parade featured six bands, Dublin High, Dublin Junior High, Oconee High, Mary Fleming High, Millville High and Dodge County High.  Promoters billed the parade as the largest in the history of the city. Fifteen professional floats were entered.  Many local floats were entered.  There were the usual compliment of public officials, festival organizers and beauty queens.  I was there riding on a farm wagon trailer with the Youth Choir of the First Methodist Church. In those days they’d take any kid who showed up.  After all, this was a church and they didn’t have the heart to turn you down.   We sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” and worshipful version of “Londonderry Air,” or “Danny Boy.”   We actually won the award for the most original entry for carrying out the St. Patrick’s theme. They must not have heard my pitiful endeavors at singing which were thankfully disseminated by the howling gale.  The Laurens County Library was awarded the prize for the best non professional float.  The Civitan Club and Best Furniture received honorable mention for their entries.  

The last events came on Saturday evening.  The Civitan Club sponsored a teen dance at the American Legion.  Country Club members danced as well at their club house.   We did a lot more dancing back then.  It was the Sixties when most kids and adults danced, although at separate venues and to vastly different musical styles.   The younger kids were invited to a record hop sponsored by the Central P.T.A..  I’ll bet you some of them danced a little too.   A week long showing of special movies at Washington Street School ended the festival.

During the eleven-day festival other events were held.   Shamrocks were every where. Irish music filled the air.  The Citizens Band Radio Club sold St. Patrick’s tags to raise funds for their public service projects.    The parents and teachers of Hillcrest School sold popcorn and cup cakes  at the parade - another good idea that went astray.   All of the city’s garden clubs got in on the festivities and helped “green up” Dublin for locals and visitors.  Special religious services focused on the contributions and life of St. Patrick.   The V.A. Hospital staff also sponsored bulletin board decorating contests and a variety show put on by volunteer service workers.

The St. Patrick’s Festival has changed and grown over the years.  The classic events have been preserved and  are still celebrated and enjoyed forty years later.  Times have changed and new events come and go.  The festival designed to promote not only Dublin, but Laurens County as well.  It is a time when there is no North, South, East or West.  It is a time when there are no city dwellers or country folks.  It is a time when we are all green.  Now there’s a tradition worth preserving all year long.