On Sunday, March 15th, in 85 degree heat, as news stations across the world reported on the C-19 Virus, and orders for early closures for South Florida beaches were announced, a little corner of Oakland Park turned off the news and turned up the live band. For 16 years Big Dog Station, on the corner of Dixie Highway and Oakland Park Blvd., has held “Finnegan’s Wake”, a hilarious parade and street party celebration to help the locals kick off Saint Patrick’s Day week in style.
But this isn’t your normal parade, so put the idea of street floats, marching bands and big balloons out of your mind, and replace it with bag pipes, an Irish princess, the pope and a “Pope Mobile”, a hearse, a widow in mourning accompanied by her priest, naughty nuns, a respectable showing from the U.S. Marine Corps League #1058, and an onslaught of leprechauns and locals dressed in every kind of green or Irish attire you can imagine. There were festive green wigs, hats, dresses, masks, and even brightly painted beards on show, and it was a show!
If you didn’t come in theme, not to worry, they had you covered with vendors selling t-shirts, doing elaborate face painting and glittering body art tattoos, and even selling homemade foods to take home. But if you wanted some great corn beef and cabbage meals, well, that was all Big Dog, and they served it throughout the day inside and out. Even setting up tents outside for guests to sit and enjoy their meals while catching up with the locals. To think this was just a little local’s bar?! Huh! Several outdoor bars were also set up serving Jameson Whisky, Strongbow, Bogarts, Tullamore Dew and Fighting 69 Irish whiskeys, among many other popular drinks.
The music could be heard throughout the street by Joe Dougherty and his “Four Leaf Clovers” band, as people sang along to the songs they knew and several did a little jig for fun. The Irish princess danced in her gleaming green dress to unsuspecting onlookers passing by, who in minutes joined the celebrations too.
But the big event is the arrival of the hearse, carrying Finnegan’s casket. The hearse from our local Kallis-McIntee Funeral Home has been part of this event for years. At 5 PM, right on time, we heard the bag pipes announcing their arrival. The music stopped and everyone came outside. Slowly the hearse and pallbearers made their way around the corner and down the street, as mourners/partyers lined up on either side wishing their do-wells. It was followed by the mourning widow dressed in black and accompanied by her priest, then the “Pope Mobile” driven by Connie Davis, “The Queen of Everything” and director of the parade, carrying the Pope who was played by “AM Papa Dave Keys”. Walking behind them with holy water and a ruler were the naughty nuns, a priest, the Irish princess and mayor, the U.S. Marines, local VIP’s Debbie Blakely owner of Big Dog Station, Peter Kelly of Kelly Brothers, and the parade of Leprachans and mourners dressed in green.
When they arrived at Big Dog Station the casket was carefully walked inside and placed on the back wall bar as parade participants and mourners could pay their respects to Finnegan. They opened the casket to find him (a dummy replica) resting peacefully. The hilarity continued on a little longer as songs of Amazing Grace and other favorites were played a few toasts were had and the party dispersed into the crowd.
Outside the party continued on with live music, good food, drinks and great people. Although there was a lot of talk about the virus plaguing our world, there was also a lot of talk about coming together as a community and helping one another. Being there for each other and helping others in need.
Big Dog did what they could to make this a safe event, setting up extra seating and spacing all vendors about 20 feet apart, so people could spread out more. People in attendance were also doing due diligence: Instead of a traditional hand shake, there were hands in the air shaking, elbow and butt bumps, along with air high fives. One man joked that “There was enough alcohol here to kill anything.” Several vendors were wearing gloves, and Debbie was on watch at all times to make sure things were in check and guests were as safe as she could make them.
Although I thought this was a small local event, it turns out that people come far and wide for it. I met people from Pennsylvania, Canada, Georgia, Texas and New York. One group, The Higgins Clan, came with 13 friends from Long Island. This being their second year, they plan to make it an annual trip. To make sure they could get here, they left last week to avoid many of the flight cancelations. The father figure amongst them even choosing to celebrate his birthday. “We heard about this event from a friend two years ago and just had to come and see it for ourselves. Deb and the guys at Big Dog do such a great job and always make us feel welcome. It’s so much fun, we plan on coming back next year!”
When I got a chance to speak to the mourning widow and priest, really local husband and wife, Mike and Lauren O’Hanlon, they said they have been attending this event for six years and this is their second year of playing a part. “It’s just a good time. We all get together and make it fun for everyone. It’s kind of a local tradition.” A celebrity in her own right, Connie Davis, a.k.a. “The Queen of Everything” who is the director and owner of Finnegan’s Wake had similar comments. Gleaming with pride, she spoke from her golf cart seat. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years, and I don’t intend to stop anytime soon. It’s a great community and we make it a lot of fun both for the players, and the patrons.”
Other local well knowns played a hand in one way or another to support the event. The V.I.P list was Tim Shiavone from The Parrot, Bobby Streeter from Streeter’s, Peter Kelly of Kelly Brothers, Bobby LaTour of Murphy’s, Rene Kostoy of The Deck, Dave Bee of Stringers, and Jeremy Darden of Brendan’s. One of whom said “Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this? Besides Deb and the guys at Big Dog are great, it’s nice to be a part of it with them. With all the stress we have in the world, especially this week, good to have the community together doing something fun. It’s a beautiful day, we’re all outside and with friends.” And with that, the party continued on late into the night. By 3 AM on Monday the tents were down and the south side of Main Street was back to normal.
Debbie, the owner of Big Dog put in a lot of work into this event. “Despite all the fears of this virus, and things closing down around us, I am glad we got to do it. My team worked hard, the community showed up, no one got sick, and everyone had a great time. That’s what matters.” I look forward to doing it again next year.”
This is a huge shout out to the Clan of Big Dog Station – Debbie Blakely, Luke, Maddy, Nikki, Muffin, Jordan, Bobby, Jeannie, Billy-Goat, and Mike & Rene Fitzpatrick, who came through with flying green colors, much to the delight of their patrons and fans. Thank you and keep up the good work! See you next year!
If you would like to sponsor or be a part of this event next time, please contact Connie Davis at 954-383-2285.
Join Living in Oakland Park to watch the video of Finnegan’s funeral procession.
Kim is a South Florida native with a background in Non-Profit work, Special Events, Public Speaking, Community Outreach, and Development. Oakland Park has been her home for 20 years. She is a creative catalyst who enjoys creating win-win relationships on whatever project she puts her mind to. She is involved in Animal Rescue, Art events, C.E.R.T., and an American Red Cross volunteer. In her spare time, she does photography, writing and the outdoors.