HELENA — In previous years on St. Patrick’s Day, the Capitol in Helena bellowed with the sound of drums and Irish dancers. This year’s gathering was a much more reserved affair with few in attendance, in order to be conscientious about social distancing due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) - but the event soldiered on nonetheless.
Lewis & Clark County Commissioner Jim McCormick read the County's proclamation, which encouraged good will: “It is our hope both the Irish good will and humor, especially that humor piece, will prevail not only on this special day but throughout the year with charity,” read McCormick.
By proclamation, Governor Steve Bullock declared March 17, 2020 as Irish Heritage Day in the state of Montana and helped raise the tricolor. “Usually we have Irish dancers and a large presentation,” said Bullock. “But for social distancing and not to have crowds larger than 20, we still wanted to make sure anyone from any Irish descent they could look out at the State Capitol today and know we’re celebrating.”
Mike O'Connor with the Ancient Order of the Hibernians noted you don’t have to go out in order to celebrate Irish heritage and honor Irish contributions: “Maybe people can think about their Irish ancestry, and what they had to experience coming over here,” said O’Connor. “The least we could do is be inside and make sure that the health of other people are protected.”
Montana has a special connection with the Flag of Ireland, also known as the tricolor. In Ireland in 1848, a group known as “Young Ireland” attempted a rebellion in the country. They were led by Thomas Francis Meagher.
That same year Meagher was presented a tricolor, similar to the French tricolor, by a group of French women who were sympathetic to their cause. The green on the flag symbolizes Roman Catholics, the orange represents the Protestants and the white signified a lasting peace and hope for union between the two. The tricolor then became a symbol of an ideal union, and lasted long after the Young Irelanders rebellion.
Meagher would later immigrate to the United State, serve in the American Civil War and served as Acting Governor of Montana after unpopular Territorial Gov. Sidney Edgerton left the state. A statue of Meagher resides on the north lawn of the Montana State Capitol.