By Elsie Walker
Hackettstown – Many miles and a “t”. separate them, but sister towns Hackettstown, New Jersey and Hacketstown, Ireland have something in common: Joe Barnes. In the 1990s, the Hacketstown, Ireland resident made his first trip here and later became a familiar figure representing his town in the yearly St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In 2020, Barnes was to be Grand Marshal of that parade, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic. However, this year, the parade took place on March 13th with Barnes as Grand Marshall. In interviews, Barnes shared some information about his hometown in Ireland and his relationship with its New Jersey sister.
One of the first connections made between the two towns was in a history book of the New Jersey Hackettstown. In a 2020 interview, Barnes shared a tale from the 1950s:
Author Harold J. Nunn was writing a history called The People of Hackettstown. He decided to include something on the town in Ireland that bore the same name. He wrote to the mayor of the Ireland town explaining he wanted to include something on it in his book.
“But there was no mayor here nor will there ever be, but the postmistress here knowing there was no mayor, she opened the letter and she replied to him giving details of the town at that time. It was the year of 1954 and that letter she wrote is in the book. [Nunn] also included that the first female judge appointed in the U.S.A came from here. Her name was Mary O’Toole,” said Barnes.
Hacketstown, Ireland is small. In a recent email, Barnes numbered the population at about 900. Although Barnes agreed, “village” might be a more accurate description for Hacketstown, he noted, “it has always been described as town since it was built way back in either the tenth /eleventh century by the Normans. It is called in Gaelic, Baile Haceid, pronounced ‘boilya hackaid’: the town of Hacketts.”
The site, Love Hacketstown (www.lovehacketstown.ie/history/) notes that the town is located on the border between County Carlow and County Wicklow. It also noted that singer Elvis Presley has a tie to the town in that one of his ancestors, William Presley, lived there before emigrating to the United States 200 years ago.
In recently sharing about his town, Barnes noted a few similarities it has to its New Jersey sister and also what you can find in the town. He noted the things in common have to do with the landscape. “We have a hill that overlooks the town as does your town. We had a cafe known as the Cosy Corner as did your town and we have a river that runs at the bottom of town.” Barnes then gave a run down of what you’d find in the Irish town. “There are two schools: a primary and secondary. [There are] two churches: Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland. [Also, there’s ] a supermarket, pharmacy, post office, three pubs, a hardware store, filling station, doctors surgery, three garages/repairs tire center, etc., and a slaughter house for cattle. In addition, he noted that it is a “strong agriculture area so [there are] a few agri contractors.”
Barnes noted he first found out about the New Jersey Hackettstown in a local bar and first visited it in the late 1990s; from there, the relationship between him and the New Jersey town grew. It was about thirty years ago when he saw a postcard in a bar which had been sent to the bar person from a local who was travelling in the states. The post showed a sign for Hackettstown, New Jersey. Later, Barnes would visit that Hackettstown himself. In a 2020 interview, Barnes shared how his first visit to the New Jersey town came to be. “Back in 1995 when I was the fire chief here in town, I received a note from Mr. Jeff Saunders of the Hackettstown, New Jersey Fire Department informing me that the fire department was holding its 120th anniversary parade in June 1997. I replied to say I was interested in going, and in 1996 got the invitation and accepted. So, in June 1997 was my first visit to Hackettstown. In 2009, I was invited to attend the St Patrick’s parade,” he shared. Barnes has been part of the parade ever since as a special visitor from Hacketstown, Ireland.
Reflecting on the parade and on Barnes’ part in it, Laurie Rapisardi shared, “As the Executive Director of the BID [Business Improvement District], I was thrilled to be able to produce our St Patrick’s Day festivities once again after taking a little hiatus due to the pandemic. We were honored and thrilled that Joe Barnes had agreed to join us once again, traveling from Hacketstown, Ireland to be our 2022 Grand Marshal. As most are aware, Joe Barnes was set to be our 2020 Grand Marshal. He traveled to be here in March of 2020, the Grand Marshal event took place, and the next day, the world shut down due to the pandemic. Joe went back to Ireland without his parade. When it was time to decide who the Grand Marshal for 2022 would be, there was no question…it had to be Joe Barnes. We were honored that he had agreed to come back to Hackettstown, New Jersey once again.”