Harsh British rule and famine forced many Irish families to leave their homeland in search of a better life in the United States. The wide expansion of fertile prairie with tree-lined rivers and streams in Palo Alto County proved to be an ideal haven for some of these displaced people.
Emmetsburg, the county seat, was mostly populated by the Irish. The chosen name, after a famous Irish patriot, reflected the interest in their culture. Customs passed down from generation to generation were practiced by the young community.
One of these customs was observing the feast day of Ireland's patron saint. With the passage of time the ritual lost most of its importance until 1961. A group of Irish lads, believing "no one loves a parade more than the Irish", donned green derbies, carried their coat of arms and marched proudly through the main thoroughfare of Emmetsburg, on March 17th, the feast day of Saint Patrick.
The small parade mushroomed into an elaborate three day celebration involving many hours of work and time from individuals, civic and service clubs, and businesses. The St. Patrick's Association was formed to plan and coordinate events. The organizers strive to have an entertaining program, to develop an interest in ethnic heritage and history and to commemorate St. Patrick. Many nationalities, along with the Irish, who now live in Palo Alto County and Emmetsburg, all work together to sponsor the festival.
St. Patrick's Day in Emmetsburg, like Christmas, means coming home for the holiday, where families and friends join together for a glorious time!