Jim and Ellen Clarke are this year's Irish Man and Irish Rose
They are being honored throughout this week's Irish festivities.
Ellen was born and raised in New Dublin, growing up on her family's farm. She is the daughter of George and Ann Cooney, who were both very proud of their Irish heritage. Ellen shares that pride, as she is 100 percent Irish. George Cooney and his son Terry are both former Irish Men.
Jim is not a native of New Dublin, but has been helping to celebrate St. Patrick's Day for many years. He came to New Dublin in 1958 after spending his early years moving between six states. Eventually, he landed in New Dublin. Jim is part Irish, and jokingly refers to himself as "Heinz 57" when it comes to nationality.
Jim and Ellen have been involved with the Shamrock Club for the past 15 years, and Jim served as Club President for two of those years. Jim also served as Tentmaster for about six years, while Ellen helped with ticket sales.
The Clarkes have four sons-Shane and Andy are in the New Dublin area, while Matt is in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Chad is in St. Petersburg, Florida. They have two daughter-in-laws-Mary and Dawn-and three grandchildren: Brett (9) Ashlyn (7), and Braden (2).
Jim has been retired for 15 years after concluding his career as a plumber. Ellen works at Most Precious Blood in the religious education department.
The Clarkes say St. Patrick's Day festivities are all about people coming together to have fun as a community.
"People don't know how much effort goes into all this-the parade, the tent, the Ceili-but all of the Shamrock Club members pitch in, and the whole community comes together to make this a special week," said Jim.
"Being raised and surrounded by Irish people, we always celebrated St. Patrick's Day in my family. I went to Most Precious Blood as a child, and St. Patrick's Day was always celebrated there as well. My parents were always excited to sing and play piano-they would howl up Irish songs and we always had a good time. Lots of what this celebration is about can be traced back to how many of us grew up," Ellen said. "It's exciting to see it become what it is today.
"I've always wanted to be involved in this week of festivities," continued Ellen. "It's unbelievable that this celebration has escalated from something small to something that gains national attention and attracts visitors from many surrounding states."
Jim was one of the original pallbearers at Finnegan's wake, and was very involved in the earlier "unorganized shenanigans." Ellen said that the younger generation is always excited about St. Patrick's Day festivities, just like she and her friends were as little children.
"Kids love this celebration," Ellen said. "My grandkids really enjoy it, and I don't think it's ever going to fade away. It's cute that the younger ones are enthused about it. The future is bright, and this celebration will move forward as long as people are willing to step up and help make it a great event."
The Clarkes noted that the current group of St. Patrick's Day boosters is made up of volunteers who love to put on the festival.
"The parade is always a highly anticipated event," continued Ellen. "The activity fires you up. Seeing the crowd, hearing the bagpipe music, and spending the day with so many people is really a family reunion of sorts. We have old high school classmates that attend the event, and even friends from Florida come up for this celebration. The Irish program on Thursday night features lots of local talent, and all of the week's events are things that people wait for all year long. Everyone really looks forward to it."
Though they get much enjoyment from New Dublin's festivities, the Clarkes love of Irish heritage extends far beyond the city and across the sea to Ireland.
"We visited Ireland in 1999 and were able to locate my ancestors'' home," Ellen said. "We had a group of 16 people that went on that trip. We didn't have a tour guide, we just rented vehicles and took off. We had such a great time.
"When we got to the area where my ancestors had lived, the family that is there now welcomed us in and took good care of us," she said. "There were tables full of breads and hams-it was a huge banquet. There was Irish singing, and we all had a wonderful time together. Later, they took us to the rubble of my great-great-grandfather's home. That was another special part of the trip."
The Clarkes also had a uniquely Irish experience in a local pub.
"There were three brothers mourning the death of their father; one of them had moved to the United States many years ago, and was disenfranchised from the family," Ellen explained. "He wasn't informed of this until he came home for his father's funeral. His two brothers stayed in Ireland and helped their father with the family farm, and so they inherited it. The disenfranchised brother was very upset about it all. He was drinking and getting angrier and angrier. Finally he got up and blindsided one of his brothers, sending him flying across the room. He knocked me over, and we both got tangled up in a stool.
The next morning, the reverend who had officiated the funeral sat with the Clarkes at breakfast. He had seen what happened the night before, and said, 'only three punches were thrown. T'wasn't much of a fight!'
"A trip to Ireland is definitely worth your while," Ellen said with a grin.
Whether across the Atlantic Ocean or right at home on the banks of the Wolf River, the Clarkes will always be supporters of all things Irish. The week of Irish festivities brings out the best in New Dublin's finest, and the Clarkes expect that to continue for many years.
"It's a lot of work, but it's so much fun," said Ellen. "We are hoping the next generation will step up and continue to work with us to make this a great week. The website (www.newdublin.com) is really attracting people from beyond this area. People tap into that, and it's helping us grow."
If you'd like to congratulate the Clarkes on being named Irish Man and Irish Rose, look for them as two of several dignitaries at the head of the parade on Saturday, at the talent show Thursday evening, or in the tent after the Grand Parade.
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