FOSTER TWP. — To brothers Jim and Pat Donahue, coming to the Patch Town Days Irish Festival at Eckley Miners’ Village on Saturday was an opportunity to look back on their own family history.
As they looked out at the patch town — a mile-long village that once provided residences for miners and their families — the brothers, both from the Philadelphia area, focused on a particular green house, now the visitors center.
“That was my Aunt Anna’s house,” said Jim. “I remember it very well.”
He recalled changes to the house over time, including the removal of a wrap-around porch.
Pat Donahue said he had heard about the event online only the day before and had asked his brother if he would like to make the trip back to the area.
“Every building we go into, we know someone,” said Jim Donahue.
Both brothers were looking forward to returning home, not just with memories of the event, but also with foods specific to the area, including Senape’s Pitza (known locally as “pitz”) and some hotdogs from Jimmy’s Quick Lunch in Hazleton.
Bode Morin, Eckley site administrator, said the event, in its 15th year, brings residents back to the area to celebrate the history of patch towns which define coal mining history.
“Last year, we began with an ethnic theme, starting with a look back on Slavic history,” he said. “This year we are focusing on Irish traditions.”
Morin said the two-day event annually draws about 1,000 attendees, with proceeds going to benefit the historic site.
“We’ve had several suggestions for next year’s theme, including Italy and Germany,” he said. “But nothing has been decided on yet.”
John Dagostin, who has worked as a maintenance man at the site for over almost 20 years, described both the event and the site as being “filled with history.”
Dagostin seemed to especially enjoy telling the story of the Gaffney homestead that once held a family with 16 children.
Often if a friend of the family missed the bus back to Freeland, they had to walk back.
”But, they wouldn’t get far down the road,” he said. “In those days, a neighbor was sure to pick them up.”
Those who came hoping for a bit of entertainment were not disappointed.
The Eckley Players were on hand to present “The Day of the Rope,” a play interwoven with Irish history.
Bobby Maso, writer and director of the play, recalled how one man, a supposed Irish revolutionary found guilty of murder over 100 years ago, proclaimed his innocence until he was hanged for the crime in Carbon County.
“He said to a priest, ‘Do you want to see a miracle?” said Maso. “And he rubbed his hand in the dirt on the floor and then lifted it to the wall, leaving a hand print that remains to this day.”
Many, Maso said, see it as a sign.
“I don’t know if he was guilty or not,” he said. “But since the hand print has never been able to be removed, even with paint or plaster, I would think it might mean that he was indeed innocent.”
For those who preferred dance to drama, the Emerald Isle Dancers gave a spirited performance reflecting both the historic and the contemporary.
“We dance to a variety of music,” said Cathy Otis. “There is something for everyone.”
Dancer Emily Woss, 13, said, “My favorite part was the audience reaction.”
“One gentleman was trying to take photos of us,” said Otis smiling. “But, he said he had a hard time keeping the camera still, because he was tapping his feet.”
Kimberly Ward, visiting from Tennessee, said she was soon moving back to the area and looking forward to visiting the site regularly.
“Plus I’m half Irish,” she said, pointing out her red hair. “So, its an especially enjoyable day.”