The Shamrock Serenade – Reading’s St. Patrick’s Day Tradition

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It is Reading’s Saint Patrick’s Day tradition that dates back to a pact made between two men, Tom Hannahoe and Alvah Schaeffer, in 1893 at an Irish bar called The Stars and Stripes Saloon on South 11th Street. Nearly 130 years later this midnight tradition continues at Hannahoe’s grave in St. Peter the Apostle Cemetery, also known as “Nanny Goat Hill”; only a block away from where Tom’s saloon once stood.

Thomas C. Hannahoe

Tom was born in 1831 in Mayo County, Ireland. He traveled to America in 1855 on a honeymoon trip with wife Jane. The couple never returned to Ireland, and Tom took proprietorship of a hotel and saloon on the 500 block of South 11th Street in Reading. Tom became a beloved figure in Reading’s Irish community, eventually being dubbed the “Mayor of Irishtown”. The neighborhood surrounding the Stars and Stripes Saloon was predominantly Irish-settled, so when a Pennsylvania German named Alvah O. Schaeffer moved in, many neighbors refused to embrace the “outsider”.

Alvah O. Schaeffer

Alvah was born in Cressonia, Schuylkill County and moved to Reading as a child with his family. He was a young man in his 20s when he moved to 543 South 11th Street in “Irishtown” in the 1880s. Alvah was an professional cornet player and newly married to wife Clara when he befriended Tom Hannahoe.

Reading's Saint Patrick Day Tradition
Tom, Alvah and others outside of the Stars and Stripes Saloon on South 11th Street in Reading – Photo Originally from the Passing Scene by George & Gloria Meiser

The Pact

Tom and Alvah were both lovers of music and often entertained saloon patrons. One evening Alvah played “Lass o’Galway” after a night of drinking with Tom. Tom was allegedly so moved by Alvah’s rendition that he suggested the men form a pact. The tale is widely known that If Alvah died first, Tom would plant fresh shamrocks on his grave every St. Patrick’s Day. Though, this March 18th, 1899 Reading Eagle article outlines the pact with slight difference, mentioning that Tom would sing “Lass O’ Galeway” at Alvah’s grave and mentions nothing of shamrocks. If Tom died first, Alvah would play the song every St. Patrick’s Day at midnight over Tom’s grave. Considering Tom was in his 60s and Alvah was a young man at the time, the pact played out as expected.

Reading's Saint Patrick Day Tradition
March 18th, 1916 Reading Times – Reading’s Saint Patrick Day Tradition

The Ritual

Tom Hannahoe died on February 10th, 1897, only a few years after the men made the pact. Alvah kept his promise and began his midnight serenade that year and continued the tradition until his own death on March 10th 1947; a week before he was due to give the 50th ritual at Hannahoe’s grave. Poetically he was buried in Laureldale Cemetery a week later on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Reading's Saint Patrick Day Tradition
March 18th, 1947 Reading Eagle
Reading’s Saint Patrick Day Tradition

A pact made 50 years ago ended last night when “Lass O’Galway” and “Nearer My God to Thee” were played over the grave Tom Hannahoe, in the old Catholic Cemetery on Neversink Mountain. Thomas Hannahoe (right, top photo), of Philadelphia, and James A. Hunter, of Reading, grandsons of Hannahoe, look on as four musicians carry out the pact made. The lower picture shows part of the crowd of 1,000 or more persons who stood along South Street to hear the music over Hannahoe’s grave.

March 18th, 1947 Reading Eagle

The 50th ritual was completed hours after Schaeffer’s funeral by descendants of both men. The following three decades after Alvah’s death the midnight ritual was not practiced. In 1977 it was revived by local historians Charles Castner and George M. Meiser IX and has continued since.

Considering making the trek to St. Peter’s cemetery on the south side of Reading tonight at midnight to partake in the celebrations at Hannahoe’s grave.


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Eric
Eric
28 days ago

Where on south 11th street was the bar/ saloon?

Eric
Eric
28 days ago
Reply to  Alexa Freyman

Sorry I missed that. Thanks so much ! Love your site

John Rinck
John Rinck
26 days ago
Reply to  Alexa Freyman

An article in the Reading Eagle from March 18, 1939 says 517 S 11th St, but that is clearly not right. Across the street from 517 is the empty lot where the saloon stood (which is where your link correctly takes us to).


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