OMAHA, 19 March 2002: by Brian Byrne. The Naas delegation to Omaha Nebraska had a very hectic schedule over the weekend, in a city which has so many facilities and attractions that it would be impossible to see them all in the short duration of the trip. But it was underpinned by a strong local Irish community, which rolled out the welcome wagon under the guidance of the Fr Flanagan branch of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
And before they leave, the 39-strong group will all receive honorary citizenship of Omaha to bring back with their memories of genuine American hospitality which, this writer knows from experience, leaves the fabled Irish national welcome in the half-cent place.
The first official day of the visit involved tours of Creighton University, the Mormon Winter Quarters, and the Joslyn Art Museum before the evening signing ceremony between Omaha mayor Mike Fahey and Naas Town Council chairman Willie Callaghan. They were entertained at the reception by local harpist Maggie Keelan before enjoying a $40-a-plate dinner in the university's Skutt Student centre.
On Saturday, after taking part in the parade with the AOH led by its president Mike Leahy, the group were welcomed to a a Corned Beef & Cabbage lunch, with entertainment by the Shillelagh Law musicians and Sullivan Dancers.
On Sunday, a St Patrick's Day Mass at Girls and Boys Town Chapel was preceded by a wreath laying at General John O'Neill's grave site at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, and in the afternoon the party were scheduled for an "Into the West," Barbecue with entertainment from the bluegrass sounds of "The String Demons". That event took place in the 3,500-seater McCormack's Mac Dome and the party was open to the public for $20 a skull.
Yesterday they had most of the day off to sightee places such as the Air and Space Museum (above) and the old markets area of the city (below). Last evening there was an Irish Arts Showcase at Castle Barrett (further below), with Irish dancers, poetry reading & music.
Today is a 'working' day, when the delegates are invited to attend a County Board Meeting and tour City Hall, followed by lunch, and afterwards they will attend a City Council Meeting where they will receive honorary Omaha citizenship certificates.
The Omaha AOH Fr Flanagan Division is the local Division for the Omaha Metro Area. The club holds monthly meetings and is involved in many community events and activities. The Omaha Division also is proud to support many fund raising activities for the Madonna School for Exceptional Children and other worthy social causes.
In 1998 the Division elected to name the Division after Fr Edward Flanagan who founded Boystown in 1917. Boystown has a long history of offering help, hope and healing to abused, abandoned, neglected, handicapped or otherwise troubled children. In fact, their mission is to change the way America cares for her at-risk children.
The Irish community in Omaha - and in other parts of Nebraska - has its roots in Irish immigrants who flocked to the Omaha area to work for the railroads or in local stockyards and breweries in the 1860s and 1870s. The workers congregated in an Irish settlement called Sheelytown, which had its centre around 24th and Bancroft Streets in south Omaha.