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Dallas' St. Patrick's Day Celebration Used to Involve Actual Irish People

Frank E. McGowan is appalled.
Frank E. McGowan is appalled.
Danny Hurley

Let's be honest: Apart from some obligatory references to the Emerald Isle's patron saint and the enthusiastic embrace of Ireland's most famous pastime (binge drinking), there's nothing terribly Irish about Dallas' St. Patrick's Day celebration. For revelers, it's about getting hammered; for the Greenville Avenue bars and restaurants that sponsor the event, it's mostly about making money.

Nothing wrong with either of those things, but it's worth remembering that it hasn't always been so. In 1960, for instance, there was real concern -- and a serious dispute -- over the authenticity of Dallas' observance of the holiday.

In one corner you had Fred E. Goodridge, third-generation Irishman, card-carrying member of the Irish-heritage group Sons of Erin and organizer of Dallas' 1960 St. Patrick's Day Parade. In the other was Frank E. McGowan, second-generation Irishman, member of the rival Irish-heritage group the Ancient Order of Hibernians and organizer of an Irish-only ball at the Statler Hilton.

McGowan was of the opinion that his soiree was the only legitimate celebration of Irishness to be had in the city. "There aren't enough Irishmen in Dallas to have a legitimate parade," he told legendary newsman Jim Lehrer, at the time a cub reporter for The Dallas Morning News. "What's he want us real Irishmen to do ... stand on the corner and wave green flags as he rides by on a red fire truck."

Goodridge was more concerned with throwing a bitchin' party: "Let everybody who wants to wear the green march in the parade," he said.

He called McGowan a "sorehead." McGowan declared Goodridge to be "no more Irish than Castro."

Goodridge, according to the vintage news articles posted today on Flashback: Dallas, was ultimately victorious, both over McGowan and the city bureaucrats who refused to allow parade organizers to paint a green stripe down Main Street.

Goodridge ignored McGowan's insults ("He says I'm no more Irish than Castro. I don't even wear a beard," he "hooted.") and moved forward with the parade. The green stripe appeared overnight after various city officials, including Mayor R.L. Thornton, refused to allow it. Walter Conroy, the "Irish mad" Irishman who had previously threatened to "go down there at 4 in the morning and paint that stripe" claimed to have had nothing to do with it.

"I don't really see why everybody's blaming me," he told Lehrer. "It could just as easily have been the Leprechaun and Thornton Paint Company."

(h/t Flashback: Dallas)

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


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