St. Patrick’s Day parade allows family to take pride in Irish roots

Each year, three generations of Fitzgeralds walk with a float in the Leavenworth, Kansas, parade to showcase their family heritage.

In 1907, Patrick Fitzgerald immigrated from County Kerry, Ireland, to Kansas City, Missouri, with just $10 in his pocket.

A year later he tied the knot with Delia Garvey; in the 111 years since, their marriage has lead to 85 descendents and a family tree consisting of 14 different surnames.

The two eventually settled down in Leavenworth, Kansas. Each year, many of their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren honor the family’s history with a float in the annual Leavenworth St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Tim Fitzgerald on the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day

Tim and his siblings — great-grandchildren of Patrick and Delia — are starting to take over the parade responsibilities for their father, Mike Fitzgerald, who took over for his dad before that. The family has participated in the parade since its inaugural year of 1983, so Tim has been attending his entire life.

“As a kid, it was more entertainment and fun,” he said. “Now it’s more of a tradition and a family reunion. It’s just good to see all of the family together, coming back into town.”

The float’s core elements remain the same from year to year, like the Irish and American flags, as well as several large wooden shamrocks that display the family’s many different surnames.

All of the young Fitzgeralds pile into the back of the family’s float while they wait for the parade to begin.

But, Mike said they include a different theme each year to mix things up. This year, the float had a traditional Irish fishing boat called a curragh.

“It all has to do with our family history from Ireland,” Mike said. “We just try to keep it in that tone.”

He said that if someone marries into the family and has Irish roots, their name is put on a shamrock, too.

Family heritage is important to the Fitzgeralds and especially to Peggy Hainey, a granddaughter of Patrick and Delia who created a family tree dating back to the 1700s. Hainey has traveled all over the country and to Ireland about 10 times to track down family records.

“In the old days, you had to go to court houses and libraries and state archives,” she said. “We didn’t have everything online. For the Fitzgeralds, most of their records were either in Kansas City or Leavenworth or Ireland.”

Hainey has been doing ancestry work since the 1980s and says she’ll never really be done. Between DNA testing and the information now available online, she said another distant cousin will always pop up.

Though the work is tedious, Hainey believes it’s important for her and her family to know where they come from.

Peggy Hainey on the importance of knowing your history

Hainey said her knowledge of family history also reminds her what she has to be proud of.

“I can say this for the Irish: because of their history, they had nothing going for them except to claim being Irish,” she said. “They didn’t have money, they didn’t have education, they weren’t supposed to practice their religion. If you were Irish, you either took pride in it or you wished you’d been somebody else. I’m glad I’m who I am.”

Each year, the Leavenworth St. Patrick’s Day parade allows the Fitzgerald clan to take pride in who they are, and to pass that pride down to newer generations. Even at a young age, children in the family know what it means to be a Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald children on why they like being a Fitzgerald

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