Most Read Stories of 2023, updated: Corey Hannahoe Continues March 17 Midnight Tradition Honoring Great-Great-Great Grandfather


Photograph from Facebook: "The memory of Tom Hannahoe, the Mayor of Irishtown!"

by Jane Stahl

"I'll always be there."

Corey Hannahoe, great-great-great grandson of Thomas C. Hannahoe, known as the Mayor of "Irishtown" in Reading during the mid-19th century, is adamant about continuing the family's March 17th tradition even though there are plans to move out of the area in the works.

Corey looks forward to the annual gathering of family and friends at the gravesite and expects several dozen to join him, as usual, at dinner before the midnight gathering.

Apparently Corey is not the only committed attendee. He reports that several members of the Reading Music Foundation join the group each year and bring musical instruments to accompany the singing of several tunes: Lass of Galway, The Harp That Once through Tara's Halls, and Nearer My God to Thee. Just a week or so ago, the Foundation sent a "See you soon" message to let him know they'd be there as usual.

Tradition. Love it.


by Luann Zambanini*

On March 17, when the clock strikes midnight, a tradition will continue. It all began long ago with a friendship of an Irishman and a German kid.

An Irishman, Thomas C Hannahoe (born 1835) was called the Mayor of “Irishtown” in Reading, PA. Hannahoe owned a bar named the Stars and Stripes Saloon.

The second character of our story is Alvah Oscar Schaeffer, (born 1866). When the Schaeffer family moved to Reading, they settled on South 11th Street, an Irish area, the same block as the Hannahoe Saloon.

Hannahoe, the so called “Mayor of Irishtown,” took a liking to the young German American Schaeffer. Those who were not Irish in the area were not welcome or even safe to roam freely in Irishtown. Because of Hannahoe’s liking of young Schaeffer, Schaeffer could travel freely in the area anytime.

Hannahoe loved to sing and loved music. Schaeffer was a professional musician and through a love of music is most likely how their grand friendship began.

St Patty’s Day at Hannahoe’s was a massive party, with nonstop music and celebration. Schaeffer would celebrate with the Irish on St. Patty’s Day.

Late one Friday evening in 1893 or 1894 Schaeffer went into the saloon with his cornet. He played some tunes for the patrons. Hannahoe requested him to play "Lass of Galway."

An emotional Hannahoe proposed a pact to his young friend. If Hannahoe would die first, Schaeffer would attend his funeral and each St. Patty’s Day at midnight, would play “Lass of Galway” and “Nearer My God to Thee” over his grave.

On February 3, 1897, Hannahoe complained of chest pains. He got medication from his doctor. Schaeffer visited Hannahoe and Hannahoe wasn’t getting better. Hannahoe reminded Schaeffer about their pact. Hannahoe passed away on February 10 at age 61. The wake was an amazing celebration of a colorful life. It lasted until 3 a.m. His burial was at St Peter’s Cemetery on Nanny Goat Hill in Reading.

At midnight the evening of St. Patty’s Day, March 17, 1897, Alvah Schaeffer kept his pact to his dear friend Hannahoe. Each year Schaeffer would come back to the grave and play for his old friend on St Patty’s Day, at midnight.

When Schaeffer was physically unable to play the cornet, he enlisted someone to play in his place. Schaeffer was at the grave of Hannahoe on March 17th each year until Schaeffer’s death on March 10, 1947. It was 50 years of making sure his friend had music at midnight on St Patty’s Day.

For 30 years after Schaeffer’s death, the ritual was on hiatus. It was brought back in 1977 by a family member. Bart Hannahoe oversaw the event until his death in June of 2010 at the age of 70.

Luckily, Corey Hannahoe, a local Boyertown man and great-great-great-grandson of the Irishtown Mayor, picked up the family legacy after Barth’s death and will continue it again this year.

"Corey shares that he expects about 50 people, but in former times 100's came to honor what he believes is one of the oldest traditions in Berks County," offers Jane Stahl.

"He adds that what he enjoys most about the event that he's been hosting for about 9 years is that people who have no particular connection to the founders continue to attend and share stories of their relatives or of traditions that have been passed down to them that they continue to honor," she continues. "He enjoys hearing the stories and wishes more folks would attend the 20-minute ceremony."

Three members of the Reading Music Foundation provide music for the ceremony in which he recounts the origin story. "Corey is dedicated to continuing the tradition--counts it as part of Berks County folklore and puts the event on his calendar each year, hoping his son doesn't have a major sports event that would take him out of the area, or that his job doesn't have him out-of-state on March 17!" Stahl concludes.

St. Peter’s Cemetery (also known as Nanny Goat Hill Cemetery) on the 1100 block of South Street in East Reading is the place and the time is after the Irish fun of March 17th at midnight. The tradition is "on," no matter what weather comes our way! See you at the cemetery.

The Hannahoes gather in memory at the gravesite: Left to right: Brady, Corey’s son; Jeff Hannahoe whose great-great grandfather was James, brother to Thomas; Corey; his daughter, Karsyn; and my husband, Todd.

*Luann Zambanini – Since retiring two years ago, she hasn’t exactly been sitting around eating bon-bons. It's actually been the opposite - Luann is busier than ever! She is extremely involved with the Boyertown Area Historical Society. When she isn’t participating in her treasurer duties, Luann is involved in planning their next event. Some of her other hobbies include baking, reading, making cards, writing stories, doing research projects, working on family history, taking care of her 65 indoor plants, volunteering at St. Columbkill’s church, or volunteering for Fairchild Feral Friends Foundation. Her family includes her husband of almost 35 years (Rob), daughter (Katie), son-in-law (Erik), and her many fur babies. These include five dogs and five cats.

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