by Elsie Walker
When Joe Barnes describes his hometown of Hackettstown, he shares that it is a place with just a little industry, mostly farming, and a population of around 900 people. If that doesn’t sound like Hackettstown, New Jersey, that’s because it isn’t. Barnes, who is retired, lives in Hackettstown, Ireland. However, in the 1990s, Barnes made a connection with the town in New Jersey bearing the same name as his home. Since then, he’s visited many times, and participated in 10 of the New Jersey town’s St. Patrick’s Day parades. This year, Barnes will be there again, only this time he’ll have a special role. The Hackettstown Business Improvement District (BID) has named Barnes the Grand Marshall of its 12th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. This year the parade is Sunday, March 15th with the step-off at 3:30pm.
“I am overwhelmed [to have] been asked to be Grand Marshal. I am excited, a little nervous, and I will make every effort to try and match all the previous marshals. Three of my four daughters are coming to the parade reception and parade itself. One of my girls lives with her family in Boston, Massachusetts. After the parade, I will travel up with her. I will be there for March 17th; later that week, we go on vacation to Mexico,” said Barnes.
To give a little more insight into what his Hackettstown is like, Barnes shared a tale from the 1950s:
Author Harold J. Nunn was writing a history of the New Jersey Hackettstown, 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.
The Hackettstown in Ireland knew of the U.S. town that shared its name, but how did it happen that Barnes started coming to visit it?
“Back in 1995 when I was the fire chief here in town (Ireland) I received a note from Mr. Jeff Saunders of the Hackettstown New Jersey 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. Since then I have been many times, and in 2009, I was invited to attend the first St Patrick’s parade,” he shared.
At that first St. Patrick’s Day parade, Barnes was driven along the parade route in a vintage fire truck of the Hackettstown NJ Fire department. Since then, he’s come back again to participate in the parade. At first, he walked behind a banner stating he was a special guest from Hackettstown, Ireland. “For the last few years, as I am not young anymore, I have been driven in an open top car, again [with] the banner up front and the BID gave me a sash to wear saying ‘Hackettstown Ireland’” said Barnes.
This year, as Grand Marshal, “Joe will be riding in the seagrave fire truck,” shared Jim Sheldon, Executive Director of the Hackettstown BID.
Sheldon went on to share why Barnes was selected to be Grand Marshal, “Joe was selected to be Grand Marshal because of his dedication and commitment to Hackettstown and our St. Patrick’s Parade. He is a wonderful person and deserves to be recognized. This year the dates of our parade and New York City’s Parade are close together, which allows those from Ireland visiting New York City’s Parade to visit our parade as well.”
Excited about being Grand Marshal, Barnes ended by sharing what has kept him coming back to Hackettstown, N.J. all these years: “It’s very simple. I love the town, the people, the area, my friends there who I count as my best friends and I will continue to go as long as I am able and the people want me to.”