Annual St. Patrick’s Day party reaches 20-year milestone

by Laura Bednar

What started as a vision in resident Jim Riley’s mind materialized into an Irish pub within his home that is not only host to a trove of memories, but also family and friends who attend his annual St. Patrick’s Day party.

The party, which will celebrate its 20th year this March, came before the pub. Riley held it in two of his previous homes in Independence over the years, entertaining anywhere from six to 175 people. When the weather is warm enough, he has set up a tent outside for the attendees; otherwise, they spread out throughout his home.

“There have been times when people wore flip flops and other times when we set up electric heaters,” said Riley.

The tradition began in 2004 when, unexpectedly, Riley received a call from a couple friends who wanted to drop by on St. Patrick’s Day. Riley’s father, a Cleveland Police officer, used to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade downtown and bring home corned beef for the family. He had passed away earlier that year.

The casual gathering has snowballed into a party for which Riley used to deliver physical printed invitations. Nowadays family and friends are invited through a text or phone call.

“I’ve had mayors, judges and priests at the party,” said Riley. He added that police officers have also shown up, not because of a noise complaint, but rather to have a sandwich.

Riley’s friend owns a restaurant in which he cooks 2,000 pounds of corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. Riley used to help his friend on the holiday and bring home extra meat for the party. These days, the corned beef is pre-made and he picks it up the day before the event.

Partygoers bring sides to share like cabbage and noodles, as well as enough bakery items to fill several tables.

“We’ve never run out of food,” said Riley.

Guests bring their own alcohol, but as Riley described, “It’s not a drunkfest. It’s a happy, family atmosphere.”

His love of family is evident in the many decorative and functional items in the basement pub of his Cedarwood Court home. It took Riley 18 months to create an authentic Irish pub atmosphere. Coming down the stairs, what first catches the eye is an entire wall that Riley’s friend painted to look like a stone castle wall with a window overlooking the hills of Ireland.

Riley did the other work himself, including building a bar out of beams from his old home and antiquing cabinets filled with glassware, much of which has Irish engravings or was gifted by family members.

Six different colored doors line one of the walls to make guests feel they are on the streets of Ireland. Riley built or repurposed a door for each of his four children, and they chose the color. A smaller door at the end of the wall has hinges to reveal a photo of the family’s former dog, Dublin.

Walls are donned with photos and other memorabilia, some in remembrance of Riley’s parents, James and Georgine. “My parents were good role models for faith and hard work,” said Riley, who comes from an Irish Catholic background.

Metal numbers 1844 – James’ police badge number – hang next to a window from Riley’s old house that frames photos from a calendar of Ireland. His mother’s nickname was Gina Bear, and a doorknocker with a bear is displayed in her memory.

Many of the items, like coasters with the names of Irish beer, or rod iron gates to create a wine cellar, were found at antique shops or on eBay. Riley purchased items over the years and was gifted others, like a blanket with an Irish blessing that his late neighbor Alice Rahm gave him when she moved into a nursing home.

“[The pub] was in my mind a lot of years, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out,” he said. “But it came out better than I thought.”

Guests at this year’s party will enjoy the pub, but Riley said the main focus is getting everyone together for a happy occasion. Irish music plays throughout the house and Riley hands out Irish bracelets and sunglasses to the younger children. His first grandchild will be at the party, marking three generations in attendance.

The party was previously on St. Patrick’s Day, but has changed over the years to a date close to the actual holiday. On one occasion, Riley held the party on March 11, his wife’s birthday, and turned it into a surprise party. On the party’s 10th anniversary, he hired bagpipers to play and even made commemorative T-shirts.

While nothing special is planned for the 20th year, Riley said it is still “something the whole family looks forward to.” ∞

Independence resident Jim Riley used
rod iron to create a wine cellar in his
homemade pub. Photo by Laura Bednar.

One wall of the “pub” displays colorful doors similar to what you’d see on the streets of Ireland. Photo by Laura Bednar.

On our cover (photo): Resident Jim Riley stands in front of cabinets he antiqued for the Irish pub he created in his basement. One wall of the room is painted to look like a stone castle and Irish hillside. Photos by Laura Bednar.