ANACONDA — A popular Anaconda tradition will end this year as Ed and Bea McCarthy prepare for their 40th — and final — St. Patrick's Day open house.
It's a bittersweet conclusion to decades of celebrating the family's heritage and sharing their Gaelic hospitality with thousands of people from Anaconda and around the state.
The couple decided in advance that number 40 would be the last.
"It's just changed with each year," Bea said. "We were just lucky to be able to do it as long as we have." But it's not the luck of the Irish that's made the McCarthy's bashes so successful. The secret is in planning ahead and hard work.
Often, Ed starts a strategy for the next year's gathering the day after the party, and details are ironed out with each passing month.
Bea begins baking round tiers for several wedding-style cakes in February, and stashes them in her freezer. Later, their friend, retired baker Art Hirsch, decorates them in green and white.
The elaborate cakes are served to party guests and distributed by volunteers to shut-ins at the nursing home on the day of the party.
It takes a lot of helpers to pull off the event that's grown from a casual Irish coffee clatch to mammoth proportions, including a brigade of kitchen helpers, a half dozen bartenders and a dedicated clean up crew.
"Believe me, we've gotten a lot of help from a lot of people," Ed said. "There's a lot of work that goes into it … and we enjoy it." Ed said the party got its start back in 1965, after the regular St. Paddy's Day shindig at the AOH Hall. When the party wound down around dinnertime, Ed invited folks home for more camaraderie.
"We were shooting the bull, as they say," Ed remembered. "The thing was starting to break loose and I said, ‘Come on up to the house. We'll have a little toddy for the body.'" The old timers — Pete McNally, Pat Murray, Walter Dooley, Mike Lacey and others — left the hall for more celebrating and visiting at the McCarthy's home.
The next year, around 20 to 25 friends followed Ed and Bea to their place.
"Those were some of the great years," Ed said. "There was a whole gang of them. That's how it started out, and it got bigger and bigger." Later, the crowd swelled to 500 or more.
"It's been interesting, over the years, the different people that have shown up," Bea said. Friends — and friends of friends — find warmth and welcoming. Many of those have brought gifts of Irish mementos for the couple.
The result is an extensive collection of Leprechauns, shamrocks, and other memorabilia that decorate the home all year long, not just for St. Patrick's Day, as a reminder of good times and enduring friendships.
"They stay up, because of the people that gave them to us," Bea said.
The couple has plenty of friends, Irish and otherwise, with Ed's 40-plus years as a mail carrier and retired school teacher Bea's tenure as a state Legislator and member of the state Board of Regents.
But it doesn't matter if the guests are heads of state or townsfolk — they all hold in common a love of tradition.
"When they're here, they're all really about the same," Ed said.
While Ed and Bea may miss the excitement of the annual crowd, this year's event will be a special family gathering, since the couple's children — and their families — will be able to attend.
"This is Christmas," Ed said. "All my family will be home." Bea agreed. With kids' and grandkids' hectic schedules, that hasn't always happened.
"That'll make it special," Bea said. "We haven't had that every year. It's going to be real good because we'll have them all together. It's the people that make the party." And this time next year, the couple could be visiting Ireland, if their plans work out. It will be Ed's fourth trip there and Bea's third.
Many locals say celebrating won't be the same without the McCarthy's open house to kick off festivities for St. Patrick's Day week. The gathering was traditionally held on the Sunday preceding the holiday.
Kathy Maki, president of the local Ladies' Ancient Order of Hibernians, said the family's celebration created an important connection to the town's Irish heritage.
"I was a teenager when I first started going over there," Maki said. "You always started planning St. Patrick's Day around their party. Everybody will miss it." Reporter Vera Haffey may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.