Music, whiskey and a lampshade drop: Celebrating the Irish New Year in Denver

The Irish New Year's celebration is full of tradition. There’s plenty of singing and dancing along with an Irish blessing and a strange way to ring in the New Year.

DENVER — Long before the sun went down in the Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood of Denver on the last night of 2019, bagpipes were tuning up inside local pub Celtic on Market.

“The Irish do know how to party. It’s all about love and laughter,” said John Aylward, the immediate past president of the Carrigan Chapter of the Colorado Ancient Order of Hibernians (AoH)

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Aylward has helped organize the annual Irish New Year’s Eve for the last 10 years.

“It’s the Irish goodbye to 2019,” he said with a laugh.

Credit: Mike Grady

The AoH is an Irish Catholic fraternal organization formed in New York in 1836. The AoH provided a way for the often persecuted immigrants to create a sense of community. 

As the Irish moved west to find work, so did the AoH.

“They followed the Irish workers,” explained Aylward. “They followed them into the mines, and that’s where we see this tradition in Colorado.”

Credit: Mike Grady

The New Year celebration is full of tradition. There’s plenty of singing and dancing along with an Irish blessing and a strange way to ring in the New Year. 

“We celebrate Irish New Year at 5 o’clock, which is New Year’s in Dublin,” said Aylward. “We don’t have a crystal ball to drop like in time square, so we have our own version. We have a lit-up lampshade. We choose the oldest and the wisest of all the Hibernians in the room to sit beneath the lamp shade as it drops to bring in the New Year.”

This year, that honor went to 82-year-old Patrick Maguire. He and his wife Angela came to the United States from Ireland in 1964. They spent several decades between New Jersey and Michigan, where Maguire joined the AoH. A few years ago, the couple said they moved to Colorado to be closer to their daughter.

On the last day of 2019, Maguire found himself in a green sweater and knit cap with an AoH sash draped over him. He was holding a shot of Irish whiskey and there was a lampshade decorated with lights and green frills hanging precariously above his head.

“I’m feeling great, man,” Maguire said, raising his glass.

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Credit: Mike Grady

As the crowd counted down the last seconds of 2019 in Ireland (the last seconds of 4 p.m. in Denver), the Michael Collins Pipe and Drums prepared to blast into a traditional folk song called "Auld Lang Syne" at the stroke of Irish midnight.

Maguire said this quirky ceremony makes it feel like he’s a bit closer to home.

“My wife, who is also form Ireland, and I think it’s great to come down here and be among the Irish,” Maguire said.

Aylward said he feels a little more connected to the country his grandparents came from.

“There’s something special about being Irish,” Aylward said. “When the Irish first came here they were oppressed, so they sought solace in organizations like AoH, where they could celebrate their culture. Hard times bring people together. Rather than go through hard times again, we just want to have a party and share the culture, and we encourage other people to share their culture as well.”

Irish New Year’s is the most successful fundraising event of the year for AoH. They hope to raise nearly $10,000 for the Samaritan House, Annunciation Catholic School and Purple Heart Homes, among other organizations in Colorado.

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