The Return of Holyoke Colleen Pageant


Maura Dulude, Herald Staff

The last Holyoke Colleen Pageant was held two years ago, and it is now back for 2023. The pageant is an annual tradition that takes place in Holyoke each year, but was put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many Holyoke residents are very passionate about St. Patrick’s Day, and are excited for the big return. 

“They’re excited, we’re excited, we are all glad to be back here!” said Abigail Scanlon, media liaison for the St. Patrick’s Committee of Holyoke. In the Colleen Pageant, 10 girls from the area compete with each other to be chosen as one of the five Colleens. 

The pageant started off with a presentation of the colors and performances of several traditional Irish dances. The girls were judged based on four unique categories, including appearance, poise, intelligence and personality. The annual event is open to female residents of Holyoke or South Hadley who are between the ages of 17 and 24 and claim Irish ancestry.

Many young girls admire the Colleens, and are thrilled to watch them. “We’ve had so many excited parents and little kids, even some of the contestants, I talked to them earlier, have been coming since they were little girls,” Scanlon said. The 2020 Colleens recently spoke about their excitement for the return of the pageant. “Everyone here has become such a family and all the girls have become like sisters so it’s amazing to be back together again,” said 2020 court member Haley Dusseault.

Being a colleen isn’t as easy as it seems. Moira McDermott, the 2020 Grand Colleen, confirmed this statement, saying, “It takes a lot of confidence and bravery to go out there, so I am really proud of them for doing that. It’s no easy feat to be up on stage in front of so many people and have your accomplishments splayed out…”

 This year’s 2023 five finalists for the Holyoke Grand Colleen are: Mara Moriarty Donnie, Caroline Sullivan Leahy, Abby Ross Glasheen, Lauren Nicole Ryan and Catherine Mary Keane. Leahy also received the Bonnie Baker Miss Congeniality Award. Abby Rose Glasheen is 21, and a Holyoke High School graduate, majoring in Health Sciences at Westfield State University. Mara Moriarty Downie is 19, and graduated from St. Mary’s Parish High School, majoring in Psychology & Art at Mount Holyoke College . 

Caroline Sullivan Leahy is 20 from Saint Mary’s Parish High School, and currently at Saint Anselm College majoring in Junior Elementary Education. Lauren Nicole Ryan is 21 and also a graduate of Holyoke High School. She is majoring in Finance at Roger Williams University. Catherine Mary Keane, 22, is also a HHS graduate and is majoring in Psychology at Sacred Heart University.

Now, the Colleens are tasked at preparing for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The parade is traditionally held every year on the Sunday following St. Patrick’s Day. This year, it will be held on Sunday March 19, 2023. The first parade to honor our Irish heritage was held in 1952 and was planned by members of the Brian Boru club, the Ancient Order of Hibernians with assistance from the members of the Holyoke Police and Fire Departments. 

Early support was also received from the Holyoke parishes and Catholic schools in the city. Holyoke has welcomed up to 400,000 people for the spectacular parade that showcases prize winning floats, championship bands from the northeast and notable celebrities each year. The parade has been televised since 1959, first by WWLP, the NBC affiliate for Western Massachusetts, and in recent years by WGBY. Last year, the parade returned to WWLP. The Colleens can be seen waving to everyone aboard their custom float on parade day. What began as a humble celebration decades ago has developed into a sequence of activities that includes the premier Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in New England.