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Painted streets and the ‘killing’ of rubber snakes — Rolla goes big for St. Patrick’s Day

High school bands march in Rolla’s 2022 St. Pats Parade.
Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
The Rolla High School band marches in Rolla’s 2022 St. Pat's Parade.

This year marks 115 years since the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the city of Rolla.

Although it doesn’t have a robust Irish immigrant population, the town boasts one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Midwest.

“I tried to find how the papers in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield covered this event,” said Missouri S&T historian Larry Gragg. “I found this wonderful story in a St. Louis newspaper in 1916. The journalist said, after attending the activities: ‘Rolla is a town you ought to see before you go to Paris and die.’ He was so taken with what he saw in Rolla, he was telling everybody, ‘You gotta come see this next year.’”

Rolla has its own style of St. Patrick’s Day celebration, explained St. Louis Public Radio correspondent Jonathan Ahl. Rolla’s version doesn’t focus much on Irish heritage, or even on St. Patrick being the patron saint of engineers — although that connection certainly plays into Rolla history. “St. Patrick's Day in Rolla almost has nothing to do with St. Patrick and has everything to do with a community that has built on a tradition for more than 100 years,” Ahl said.

Ahl and Gragg joined Friday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss Rolla's St. Patrick’s Day history and the unique traditions that continue today, including an event on a campus lot that recalls the credit given to St. Patrick for “driving snakes out of Ireland.”

“Undergraduates bring out their shillelaghs and their cudgels, and there are rubber snakes thrown onto the ground,” Gragg said. “They spend an awful lot of time pounding on the ground to kill the snakes, all the while yelling in celebration of what they’re doing. And when they’re done, the real positive is that the ground is well tilled, and it can be seeded.”

Streets will be painted green before the town’s annual parade Saturday morning. Road races, concerts and a street party are planned.

Rolla celebrates 115 years of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations

Related Event
What: St. Pat’s Parade
When: 11 a.m. March 18
Where: North Pine Street, Rolla

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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