If the good citizens of O'Neill hadn't celebrated St. Patrick's Day two days early back in 1972, they probably would have sole claim to the title, "Irish Capital of Nebraska."

But when a group of Wisner Hibernians arrived on March 17 of that year to find the celebration wrapped up and the O'Neill revelers in no mood to begin again, they went home and started their own version of the Irish holiday.

From that humble beginning has sprung one of northeast Nebraska's most famous, albeit friendly, rivalries.

Today, O'Neill, population 3,700 plus, and Wisner, only a third that size, both honor the patron saint of Ireland, hosting thousands of fellow Nebraskans and visitors from surrounding states at daylong celebrations.

Jack Dixon of Wisner is somewhat responsible for the feud, having made the fruitless trip to O'Neill 30 years ago.

"No one there was in any shape to celebrate," he says, "so we came back, started a Hibernians club, and went around charging $20 to anyone who wanted to belong."

Wisner's 2002 event is chaired by Karen Palmer, Jackie Harder and community developer Heather Kneifl, who expects the town to double in size Saturday.

"We had a beautiful day last year," she says, "The streets were filled for the parade."

Dixon, who owns Kazaan Fertilizer in Wisner, said his business will once again enter a float in the event.

As of Thursday afternoon, nothing was on the drawing board, but Dixon didn't seemed concerned.

"We never start until Friday afternoon," he said.

One of the great parade entries of years past centered around the traditional loss and recovery of the Wisner Blarney Stone, a block of cement bearing that title.

Each year, prior to St. Patrick's Day, the stone mysteriously disappears from its place of prominence downtown, and then coincidentally shows up somewhere on a float along the parade route.

"One time, these young guys put it in a casket and made it rise up just when it got to the spot where it had been on Main Street," said Dixon.

Sadly, the stone was lost for good when it was hidden in a barn and the owner accidentally buried it with some rubble.

"Now, our Blarney Stone really is in its grave," said Dixon.

Replacing the town treasure wasn't easy, but residents think they have a fairly good substitute in the form of a brand-new 2,500 lb. block on the corner of 10th Street and U.S. Hwy. 275.

At least that's where it was Thursday.

A true, three-quarters Irish gentleman, Dixon says he's proud of his community's St. Pat's celebration, but knows where the real seat of Hibernicism lies - in O'Neill.

"We'd say we were the Irish capital, but we never even came close," he said. "But we had as much fun."

St. Pat's celebration

"A Wisner Tradition," Wisner's St. Patrick's Day Celebration on Saturday includes:

*10:00 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Wisner Volunteer Fire Department pancake feed, city auditorium.

*11:00 a.m.: Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary corned beef and cabbage dinner, VFW Club.

*1:00 p. m.: Leprechaun Run, 2.2 mile walk/run and 5 mile walk/run, beginning at city auditorium.

*3 p.m.: Main street parade with Grand Marshall Gov. Mike Johanns and featuring the Mount Calvary Marching Corps and the Salvation Army Drill Team, both of Omaha. An FFA worker auction begins after the parade, which lasts approximately one hour.


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