Never Tell an Irate Irishman That He Can’t Paint a Green Stripe Down Main Street — 1960
by Paula Bosse
by Paula Bosse
In 1960, Dallas eagerly prepared for the arrival of St. Patrick’s Day. Newspaper articles were peppered with non-Texan words like “leprechaun” and “blarney” and “shillelagh.” Store shelves were stocked with popular seasonal treats such as chocolate-covered marshmallow pipes and marzipan candies shaped like Irish potatoes. Well-meaning Home Ec teachers were concocting recipes for shamrock cookies decorated with green maraschino cherries. And the Grand Ballroom of the Statler Hilton Hotel — the site of an elaborate party featuring “a program of Irish wit and merriment” and an appearance by “Darby O’Gill himself” — was being decorated with “a cloud of floating shamrocks suspended in mid-air by green balloons.” There was more excitement about St Patrick’s Day than usual in 1960, because a parade would be returning to the city after an absence of several years.
Dallas Morning News, March 5, 1960
But, oh dear, there were opposing Irish factions in town, and they were squabbling. On one side was The Sons of Erin (the organization that was sponsoring the parade), and on the other, The Ancient Order of Hibernians (the group that had rented out the swanky ballroom at the Statler). Intrepid Dallas Morning News reporter Jim Lehrer (yes, that Jim Lehrer — one of the most entertaining reporters the News has ever had) was on the story, acting as an amused intermediary in the good-natured (?) verbal jousting between the two groups. (Click clippings to see larger images.)
As parade-day approached, more important problems arose when the organizers found themselves mired in a heated dispute with the city: their appeal to City Hall for a permit to paint a green stripe down Main Street was denied. Repeatedly. “Irate Irishman Walter Conroy” did not take the rebuff well. Not at all. Jim Lehrer, was, again, on the story. He took notes as the angry and bitter Conroy — who had just spent $65 on gallons of now-useless green calcium paint and who had a line-painting machine on standby — vented in his general direction.
But you can’t keep an angry Irishman down, as can be seen in the follow-up, written by a delighted Lehrer with unconcealed sarcasm. You can hear his familiar voice in every line of the story which, if one were really stretching things, might be seen as something of a parallel to his later comic novel Viva Max!, the story of another over-confident, anti-authoritarian outlier on a hard-headed mission to right a cultural wrong. Erin go bragh, Walter!
Top photo of somewhat conservative St. Patrick’s Day revelers from The Dallas Morning News, March 17, 1960.
Most of these articles are written by Jim Lehrer, and I highly encourage readers to track down other articles by him that appeared in the Morning News in these early years of his career. His lighter, human-interest pieces are always entertaining. And there really are similarities with his comic novel (and later movie), Viva Max! — which, if you’re not familiar with it … shame on you! Read about it here.
MEDIA MENTION! Thank you, Eric Nicholson of the Dallas Observer‘s Unfair Park blog, for linking to this post! Read Eric’s post here.
Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.