By Patricia Farrell
Go Blackthorns! This exuberant cheer could be heard each year from my mother, Ella Collins Farrell, as a nattily dressed group of distinguished men wearing black dress coats, silk white scarves, green ties and black top hats ambled past as we watched the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Delaware Avenue.
Many in the group, including my brothers, would raise their blackthorns – Irish walking sticks – in salute as they marched by in orderly formation.
The Blackthorn Club was formed in 1917 in Buffalo by a group of first-generation Irish Americans to promote Irish culture and support local charities.
For decades, my mother and her sister, Patricia Collins, a sister of mercy, would religiously brave the cold, snow, wind and rain to find their place next to the parade reviewing stand or across from the Buffalo Club.
Ella and Sister Patsy came to pay homage to their Irish heritage. This was their tradition and not to be missed. Their parents, John and Margaret Collins, emigrated from Ireland in 1915 and brought their deep-rooted Catholic faith, love of Irish music, humor and gift of storytelling.
They raised their family of eight children in the heart of South Buffalo surrounded by hardworking, like-minded families steeped in ethnic pride and traditions passed on through generations.
Participating in the annual St. Patrick’s Parade was a sacred ritual. My mother looked forward to the parade and would be decked out in her own beautiful black coat, fancy scarf and green felt hat. In recent years, she and Patsy also joined the spectators for the Old First Ward Neighborhood Parade and waved and cheered to all who passed them.
The corner of South Park Avenue and Hamburg Street became our meeting place for a stalwart group of faithful who enjoyed the continuous shout-outs to family and friends who marched past.
In addition to the Blackthorns, my mother would also cheer on other parade contingents from her South Buffalo neighborhood. Marchers would stop along the route to give my mother a hug or kiss and wish her well.
Mom would be featured in the newspaper and on the evening news as she displayed her Irish pride with beauty, grace and dignity. Ella Farrell, mother of 11 and grandmother of 42, and my dad, Neil, instilled their Irish traditions in all of us from an early age. Each year, my siblings have carried on our parents’ St. Patrick’s Day customs.
Though separated by hundreds of miles, we have been united in spirit on that one special day. Family customs have included celebrating Mass at my sister’s South Buffalo home, hosting brunch in New Jersey and raising a glass in New Hampshire. Family members have embraced traditional Irish music and dance and have enjoyed gathering with friends to celebrate and remember our heritage.
This year will be different. My mom passed away in December after a short illness. Our family has spent the past few months mourning the loss of our mother we loved so much while celebrating her life well lived.
Mom’s joyous spirit continues with all of us. You will see us at our usual parade corners honoring her memory in the best way we know how.
Patricia Farrell is a proud native of South Buffalo. She previously wrote a tribute to her late father in Tim Russert's book "Wisdom of Our Fathers."