Category: Irish News

Reno Irish Group Commemorates Century Long Tradition

Note: The following article was published in the April 2024 edition of the Irish Herald of Northern California

By William Puchert

The Sons & Daughters of Erin of Northern Nevada (SADOE) commemorated a century long tradition of honoring Irish-American airmail pilot William Blanchfield.

Over the weekend of March 9-10, the Reno-based Irish heritage club celebrated the 100th anniversary of the tradition spreading shamrocks sent from Blanchfield’s native town of Courtmachsherry, County Cork and placed on Blanchfield’s grave at a Reno cemetery on or around St. Patrick’s Day with at their annual dinner and a memorial ceremony the following day.

The tradition began after the airmail pilot died on August 1, 1924 while attempting to perform an ariel stunt of dropping a wreath on the grave of a fallen pilot. Ordinarily a two-man task, it was unexpectedly left to Blanchfield alone when his aerial assistant fell ill. As he made the last of three slow descending circles over the burial ground, maneuvering his DeHavilland DH.4 bi-plane with one hand while holding the wreath in the other, the aircraft struck telephone lines and burst into flames. The young flyer was killed instantly, and fire from the wreckage destroyed a house nearby. He was only 29 years old when he died.

The following March, Blanchfield’s mother in Ireland began sending sprigs of shamrocks to then Reno undertaker Silas Ross to be placed at the grave of her son on St. Patrick’s Day. The tradition continued by other relatives until the undertaker’s death in 1975, was continued by Barbara Rabenstein of Reno, whose home Blanchfield struck and destroyed with his plane and then by Reno historian Cindy Ainsworth, who was honored at the dinner. In 2012, SADOE created a formal memorial ceremony with a bagpiper and a recitation of Blanchfield’s life, at the request of a few Courtmacsherry residents.

Since SADOE has carried out the ceremony, interest has grown in the tradition and in recent years has attracted three of Blanchfield’s living descendants Bob Williams of Carson City, Erin Saenz of Sacramento and Maureen Nokes of San Jose who all received a proclamation at the dinner honoring their relative by a group of Reno elected officials.

Blanchfield was a distant cousin of Captain Myles Keogh, an Irish-American soldier who served in the Papal Army and then in Union Army in the Civil War where he fought in the Battle of Gettysburg and served under Gen. George Custer until he died in the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Prior to emigrating to America, Blanchfield flew reconnaissance missions for the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of World War I, shot down three German aircraft and attained the rank of Major by the war’s end. He arrived in Reno in 1920, where he immediately applied for citizenship and a year later joined the fledgling US Government Postal Service as a pilot flying the Reno to Elko leg in the first day-to-night transcontinental airmail delivery. These pioneer aviators were regarded at that time as the “Pony Express of the Skies.”

Blanchfield was widely mourned when he died and Reno’s first airport, now a municipal golf course, was named “Blanch Field” in his honor. Reno’s surrounding area still has remnants of cement navigational arrow beacons that guided Blanchfield and other airmail pilots along their transcontinental route.

SADOE also has engaged in a public service project of restoring 30 Irish family plots at one of Reno’s oldest cemeteries near its university in recent years. Founded as the Sons of Erin in 1969 and reincorporated as SADOE in 1996, the non-profit Irish heritage organization presents and sponsors Celtic events, celebrates Irish history and culture, participates in local events and donates to local charities. For more info, visit

William Puchert is the President of SADOE. A San Francisco native, his Irish ancestors were stone masons in the Colma cemeteries

Local Irish American Author’s Memoir On Life After His Father’s Death

Local marketing specialist Dave Mulligan has a memoir about his younger years following the untimely death of his beloved father in the 1980s, legendary  Hollywood comedy writer and producer, Jim Mulligan—-legendary Hollywood comedy writer and producer, Jim Mulligan, who had an impressive portfolio of TV shows including was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, the Smothers Brothers, Sonny & Cher, Webster, Silver Spoons, specials for John Denver, Perry Como, Andy Williams and others. M*A*S*H was one of his last before he died at 55.

The book chronicles the younger Mulligan’s adventures dropping everything and beginning a whirlwind tour around the world to find himself with plenty of adventures. He also has a book of short stories, essays and poems. The Mulligans’ Irish ancestors, Mathew and Bridget Mulligan, emigrated from County Clare.

He also has a book of short stories, essays and poems. The Mulligan’s Irish ancestors, Mathew and Bridget Mulligan emigrated from County Clare.

To order a copy via Amazon, click here. To contact Dave Mulligan, click here

SADOE Member Attends White House State Dinner

SADOE Member and Reno City Councilman Devon Reese joined Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve as guests at the White House State Dinner last Thursday honoring French President Emmanuel Macron.

“It was the experience of a lifetime and one that will stay with me forever. My heart is very full,” said Reese, who has been in Washington DC this week attending a conference.

KRNV My News 4 has an article on the White House visit, which shows photos of Reese with Vice President Kamala Harris and Late Night Host Stephen Colbert.  The Reno dignitaries joined a list of more than 300 additional guests. The state dinner honor foreign leaders is a tradition that dates back to 1800s with Ulysses S. Grant hosted a Hawaiian king in 1874.

According to Wikipedia, the last state dinner for an Irish Republic dignitary was former President Mary Robinson in 1996.

SADOE Ties For Best Community Group In Sparks Christmas Parade

We are proud to announce that SADOE won the Best Community Group (tied with Hot August Nights) in the annual Sparks Christmas Parade in early December.

Despite winter weather and rain, SADOE was one of 86 entries to participate in the 35th Annual Sparks Hometowne Christmas Parade. The event was attended by an estimated crowd of 10,000.

In addition to our colorful float with SADOE Director Doyle Stewart singing Christmas and Irish songs, we were joined by six Irish Wolf Hounds.

Thanks to the following SADOE members for their contributions:

  • Georgiana Brooks and Gerald Wilmoth for donating the float.
  • Michael Del Ostia for all of the logistics
  • Kathleen Eagan for towing our float

SADOE To Present Northern Nevada Celtic Ceilidh On May 20

We are pleased to announce that SADOE will hold the Northern Nevada Celtic Ceilidh on Saturday, May 20 in the Reno Brewery District of Downtown Reno.

Celtic rock band Tempest and Golden Bough will be our headliners. We also intend to have local Celtic entertainers including the Sierra Highlanders Pipe Band, vendors and food trucks.

Earlier this year the Northern Nevada Celtic Celebration held a “Farewell Ceilidh” in the shared parking lot of Black Rabbit Meadery, Lead Dog Brewing and Nevada Sunset Winery on East 4th Street in Downtown Reno incorporating many elements of the festival, which had been held in Reno for nearly three decades. The festival at Bartley Ranch Regional Park had to be cancelled due to skyrocketing overhead costs due to the pandemic.

The event was successful enough and drew enough interest that the above-mentioned business owners, which includes SADOE Vice President Mike Steedman (co-owner of Nevada Sunset Winery) that they agreed to hold a similar event next year.

Earlier this year, the SADOE Board agreed to inherit the festival as a special event under the new name of “Northern Nevada Celtic Ceilidh” as the governing board of the previous festival, Celtic Celebration, Inc., is dissolving this year.

SADOE Board Members Michael Del Ostia, Doyle Stewart and Willie Puchert, who all served on the Celtic Celebration Board, will serve as subcommittee members who will manage the May 20th event. More details to come.

SADOE Member To Lead Nevada State Genealogical Society

SADOE Member Richard Dalton was elected in October as President of the Nevada State Genealogical Society (NSGS).

Dalton plans to work with all the genealogical societies in Northern Nevada to help  grow mutual membership and knowledge of genealogy. He also wants to bring in a speakers annually that will have enough appeal to reach members of all the various genealogy, lineage, and heritage societies like SADOE. If you have ideas for programs, speakers, and the like, please let him know by e-mailing him at [email protected]

Dalton organized SADOE’s TMCC Genealogy Library & Lab Tour in August and is interested in holding similar types of events in the future to foster more interest in genealogy

The Nevada State Genealogical Society fosters and promotes interest in genealogy. Members of the Society share ideas, information, and methods on searching or data about ancestors from Nevada, the United States, and around the World. The meetings are the 3rd Thursday of the month, 5:30pm to 7pm at the Family History Center,  4751 Neil Rd in Southeast Reno.

SADOE Member’s Burning Man Theme Camp Provides Homeless Awareness

As most of you have noticed by the preponderance of campers and trailers hauling bikes and art cars on our freeways this past week, the annual Burning Man Festival is being held through Labor Day Weekend over 100 miles Northwest of Reno in the Black Rock Desert.

Emily Stewart, the daughter of SADOE Director Doyle Stewart, is a co-organizer of a Burning Man theme camp this week which intents to call attention to Reno’s homeless population.

The Last Chance Motel project hopes to pleasantly disrupt Burners’ experience and force them to think not only about the community of Reno, but their own community, and how they can combat homelessness, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Their camp is holding a donation bin for non-perishable foods, toiletries, and hygiene products to support the community in Reno experiencing homelessness. They are joining with the local non-profit Karma Box, and will be donating all the collected goods to them to redistribute to our neighbors in need.

The Karma Box is a Reno nonprofit that has outfitted neighborhoods across Northern Nevada in creatively decorated boxes with supplies for the homeless population.

The project was set in motion shortly after the Best Bet Motel came down, and Emily and her friends considered how they could convey the desperation that tenants often reach before living in some of the motels.

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