By Dennis Minich
For one day a year, everyone is Irish. That day is celebrated in Kansas City with one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the country. But for some, the holiday and being Irish is more than an annual thing, it is a daily thing.
If having the name Patrick O’Shaughnessy Flanner doesn’t convince you of his Irishness, perhaps the fact that the flag of Ireland flies out front of his home during the month of March will. Flanner, who spends most of his year as a serious realtor and builder at O’Shaughnessy and Diamond, said celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is a family tradition which is taken very seriously.
The Kansas City parade was started in 1973 by a Kansas City disc jockey, Mike Murphy.
“My dad (Walt) always claimed he was in the bar partaking in libations the day Mike Murphy said they should start a parade, so their group got up and all walked down Broadway dressed in their green,” Flanner said.
Although his father’s role in the birth of the tradition cannot be verified, Murphy’s actions did indeed result in an arrest for an unlawful parade, but a tradition was born.
The parade route has changed through the years, but now starts near Linwood and Broadway at the Redemptorist Catholic Church, which was the traditional Irish area of Kansas City and near the site of Flanner’s ancestor’s home.
“Most of the Irish that lived in the area went to that church,” Flanner said. “They used to have a school there and that’s where Dad went to high school. That’s where the parade starts.”
The former grocery store in the area is now a deli and serves as a starting spot for many Irish traditions.
“We park in front of my grandmother’s old house and walk to Brown’s Market for an Irish breakfast and Irish coffee,” Flanner said.
He said the event has definitely changed through the years.
“Used to have a big Catholic mass with a priest from Ireland performing the mass in Gaelic. The entire celebration used to be on Broadway, but then it moved to Westport and now they do a lot in the Power and Light District.
“It’s become more commercialized. It used to be there were people actually drinking on the floats. Nobody fought, nobody got in trouble,” Flanner said. “Everybody was Irish and everybody was there to have fun.”
A special tradition for Flanner is a tribute to his father.
“My Dad bought a shillelagh (a walking stick) in Ireland. I take it to the parade every year,” he said.
Flanner said his father and his Uncle Dick were very proud of their Irish heritage.
“It’s a little melancholy now with Dad and Uncle Dick gone, but we carry on in their memory,” he said.
He noted his family incorporated the holiday into everyday life.
“We used to own Printed Products. When we had new employees, we’d give them packets and would tell them they got all of the major holidays off, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and then we’d end up with St. Patrick’s Day. They’d say ‘we get it off paid?’ and we’d say, ‘Oh yeah.’ It was so fun,” he said.
Flanner wanted to confirm his Irish roots so he had a DNA test. It showed him to be 27 percent Irish and 73 percent mix of Scottish, Irish, Welsh and British.
“I think back in the day things may have gotten pretty muddled,” he said. Flanner said he thinks St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish heritage are so popular because the culture is fun. “I don’t think any other people have more fun than the Irish. I remember going to my grandmother’s house when I was very young. Her second husband, Red McGinley, died, but everybody was partying. I was confused, but they told me they knew he was going to a better place so they were giving him a sendoff. “They don’t say Irish eyes are smiling for no reason,” he said.
He added he found that to be true in Ireland as well. “My mom and dad went to Ireland several times. I finally went in 2018 and I never met people who were more fun or happier in my life,” said Flanner.
While there, he took time to make a special visit. His father died in 2002.
The next year his sisters, Maureen Flanner and Molly Fordyce, took their mother to Ireland and placed his ashes under a tree near a church in Killarney.
“Looking from the tree on one side was a Catholic church. Looking the other way was a row of Irish bars. Mom said it was a perfect place,” he said.
When he got to Ireland two years ago, Flanner said he looked for the spot where the ashes were left. He visited the spot with a bottle of locally distilled Irish Whiskey. While there, he poured some of the whiskey on the ground.
“I figured he was probably getting a little thirsty by now,” Flanner said.