Wednesday, March 15 the newest inductees into the O'Neill Irish Hall of Fame were honored with their names set in stone on the streets of O'Neill. This year the inductees were Marge Walsh and Carrol McKay. The following are the stories of the inductees and their participation in what has made the O'Neill Celebration.
The McElvain Family is rich in Irish heritage and Marge McElvain Walsh is no exception. Born and raised in O'Neill, Marge's father Ralph McElvain was issued the first legal beer and first legal liquor license in O'Neill where he owned and established Mac's Bar. Mac's Bar was located at 316 E. Douglas, just west of the town's main intersection and in those days, laws forbid liquor and beer being served in the same establishment, thus the bar was divided into 2 sides.
From an early age Marge worked in Mac's bar alongside other notable Irishman, including another Irish Walk Of Fame honoree, Joe Cavanaugh. Mac's Bar, one of the main launching sites of the early St. Patrick's Day celebrations, was always adorned with green and white decorations, shamrocks and served some of the first green beer to local patrons. In those early years you would find Marge behind the bar serving up green beer in her green leprechaun outfit. Marge remembers that every St. Patrick's Day was a huge celebration at Mac's Bar and recalls that in those days you could carry your drinks from bar to bar celebrating the rich Irish heritage of the community. Once St. Pat's was over the local bars would get together and sort out their bar glasses.
Following graduation, Marge would catch the eye of an Irishman from Massachusetts, Edward Walsh, who was with the Air Force and working on a project in O'Neill. They would later marry at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in 1960 and continue their Irish traditions together. Marge returned to O'Neill in the early 1960's, while her husband was attending training for work, where she took over Mac's Bar allowing her father to retire. During that time, she was always in a supporting role for the planning and perpetrating of some of the early Fenian stunts. A memorable early photo shows her holding the bridle of the green horse with Pete Matthews as she escorted them through the bars. Marge recalls one fateful night working at the bar and visiting with Carrol McKay, Bruce Rehberg and Dr. George Cook discussing how people would travel from near and far to celebrate St. Pat's Day in O'Neill. So, Marge thought "why don't we have someone from the moon visit"? And the idea of the Moon Maid was born. Marge would dress up as the Moon Maid and Bruce, Carrol and Doc Cook would volunteer to be her astronauts. Marge and her Aunt Edna Walker worked to create the ultimate Moon Maid costume. The finishing touch would be a nun's long black wool cloak, loaned to Marge by Sister Antonella. They worked out all the details and flyers were made and distributed announcing the arrival of the Moon Maid "promptly at about 3 p.m." The plan was for the Moon Maid to land on the roof of the Golden Hotel, and then visit all the local establishments, then return to the Golden Hotel to ascend back to the moon. However, an early Spring blizzard cancelled the grand parade and the Moon Maid's descent. But even Mother Nature could not stop the Moon Maid and her astronauts who would transport from bar to bar shaking hands with the locals, according to the 1965 write-up in the Omaha World Herald. It is believed that the Moon Maid is still the farthest traveled visitor to the O'Neill St. Patrick's Day celebration.
Throughout her life Marge has always celebrated her Irish heritage wherever she was living but most especially when she was back home in O'Neill. Marge returned home for good in the late 70's with her family to care for her mother. Marge always encouraged her children to celebrate their Irish heritage and helped them build a float for the 1980 St. Patrick's Day parade which won 1st Place in the non-commercial division. Whether it was working at the Legion Club over St. Patrick's weekend clad in green serving green beer or organizing the residents of the nursing home for a trip to the St. Patrick's Day parade Marge has always promoted the towns festivities! She has instilled that same Irish pride in her children and grandchildren who have all participated in the O'Neill St. Patrick's Day grand parade. In fact, Marge's children are both members of the St. Patrick's Day
Irish Booster Band. Marge is a role model, serving as the Fenian Queen from 2019-2021, and is always encouraging her family and the younger generation to stay actively involved in the St. Patrick's Day celebration and Irish family heritage.
Carrol H. McKay was born on March 18th, 1925 at Elgin, Nebraska. He grew up northwest of Spalding, NE and graduated from Wheeler County High School in 1942, boarding at the school dormitory for all four years. Carrol was a runner and won the one mile state track championship for his school. He entered the US Navy in 1945 and was honorably discharged in 1946. On October 23rd, 1946, Carrol married Irene Rose Glaser at Spalding, NE and they were married for 63 years before her passing. Carrol and Irene had four children, Bob McKay, Pat (Jim) Gokie, Bill (Bobbi) McKay and Peg Davis.
Carrol moved his family to O'Neill in 1953, and in the 1960's, his birthday became a two day celebration along with the previous day, March 17th, St. Patrick's Day. This day honors the patron saint of Ireland and celebrates Carrol's patemal Irish heritage. His Granddad Hugh McKay had come to the United States from Ulster Village, Antrim County, Ireland in 1867 and his family was very proud of their Irish roots.
The tradition of the first St. Pat's Day parade in O'Neill began in 1961 by Pete Matthews and Joe Cavanaugh, featuring the very first green horse. The Fenians, officially named in 1962, under the guidance of General George R. Cook, organized some local Irish festivities on St. Patrick's Day. In 1962, the Fenian Moonshot was scheduled as O'Neill's first attempt to launch an Irishman, Pete Matthews, into orbit. The mission failed and the O'Neill Fire Department extinguished the flaming rocket with green foam. In 1965, the Irish Moon Maid launching was planned. Marge Walsh, a true O'Neill Irish maiden, was recruited to be the Moon Maid who would dress in full costume and who would visit from the moon, landing at the St. Pat's Day celebration. There were several Moon Maid Astronauts, Carrol included, that were sighted and photographed before the St. Pat's celebration. Unfortunately, the St. Pat's parade and the Moon Maid launching were canceled that year due to heavy snow and high winds. In 1966, a band featuring some of the real "hard core" Fenians, played on the streets of O'Neill, and toured local pubs, another tradition. In 1967, Nebraska's Centennial celebration, the highly anticipated "Fenian Mourner" float was displayed in the St. Pat's parade and gained statewide acclaim according to Tom Allan, Omaha World Herald writer of Nebraska Byways. That same year, the famed Irish Dancers performed to Irish music in the middle of the main street intersection and so another tradition began. In 1969, O'Neill was named the Irish Capital of Nebraska by the governor. Carrol enjoyed all of these celebrations which resulted in a lot of good Irish stories and memories, and the traditions continue today.
Carrol was a member of the O'Neill Fenian Army, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Carrol and Irene reigned as the Irish King and Queen of the St. Patrick's Day festivities in 1979, an honor which they thoroughly enjoyed. In 1995, Carrol fulfilled a lifelong wish and he and Irene traveled to Ireland for two weeks. They relished the Irish food, cattle, crops, music, countryside and most of all, the people there. Carrol even kissed the proverbial Blarney Stone at the Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland.
Carrol's love of horses began at a very young age and continued throughout his life. He broke and trained 400 to 500 horses over the years. He lived rodeo as a contestant, judge and arena director and helped produce many rodeos since the late 1940's. Carrol became more involved with this role, when his son, Bob, started McKay Rodeo Co., a Stock Contractor for Mid States and the Nebraska State Rodeo Associations. The Mckay Rodeo Co., consisting of Bob and his sons, adopted the Irish Shamrock and the kelly green color as their brand. Carrol served as First Membership and was elected President of the Mid States Rodeo Association in 1975 and 1976. He was the first member inducted into the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2006. Carrol helped to establish the present O'Neill rodeo arena in the 1970's and was honored in 1992 with the naming of the O'Neill arena as the Carrol McKay Arena. He continued to ride his horses in and around the arena almost daily until a few months before his death in August of 2011.
Carrol was a faithful member of St. Patrick's Church in O'Neill during his lifetime and served as a Lector at Masses. He was proud to call O'Neill home for 58 years.
As Carrol would always say, "Top of the morning to you.
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