An Irish Legacy: Graning will lead Krewe of Killarney parade

Published 9:19 am Wednesday, March 15, 2023

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When St. Patrick chases the snakes down Main Street on Friday, he’ll be representing one of Natchez’s oldest Irish families.

Tom Graning, who represents the Krewe of Killarney as St. Patrick XXXII, is a fifth-generation member of the Junkin family.

“It’s really an honor to be asked to do this,” Graning said. “I’m only the second person in our family to be St. Patrick. The first was my uncle, (the late) Freddy Ferguson.”

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The Junkins have been in Natchez since arriving from County Antrim, Ireland, in 1874, and the extended family has been active in the Krewe of Killarney since its inception in 1990.

Like many Natchez families, the Junkin tree has deep roots and wide, reaching branches. David and Jennie McKinstry Junkin arrived in 1874 with seven children in tow. One son, Thomas, was already in Natchez and two more sons were born in America.

The Junkin family quickly embraced life in Natchez and their new country, turning to land and farming. The family eventually amassed more than 30,000 acres of farmland, much in what is now known as Anna’s Bottom, and several plantations, including Quitman, Kirkland, Williston, Mercer and Foster Mound. Graning’s great-grandfather, William Junkin, was one of David Junkin’s three sons who comprised Junkin Brothers farming.

Five generations and hundreds of cousins later, Graning will represent that family legacy during the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Friday. “I’m excited,” he said, admitting it’s both an honor and a humbling experience. “I’m looking forward to it.”

St. Patrick, one of the most popular saints, was kidnapped as a teenager and sold to work as a slave in Ireland in the late 300s, where he learned the language. He eventually escaped, but later returned as a missionary, and is credited with much of the work that led to the eventual Christianization of the island nation. He frequently used shamrocks to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity and, according to some legends banished snakes from Ireland.

Graning will lead the traditional Krewe of Killarney down Main Street to the Gazebo on the Natchez bluff, where true to the spirit of St. Patrick, he’ll chase the snakes from Natchez.

A lifelong resident of Natchez, Graning was honored as the 2022 Man of the Year by Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce. He has owned and operated Go Mart for 33 years and in 2022 opened Wardo’s Poboys with several family members. The restaurant is a tribute to his late brother and business partner, Ward Graning, who passed away nearly four years ago.

A fifth-generation graduate of Cathedral School and a 1988 graduate of Delta State University, Graning is a member of St. Mary Basilica, the Chamber of Commerce, Tiger Athletic Foundation, LSU Baseball Coaches Committee, National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame, Cathedral C Club and the Santa Claus Committee. He is a board member of the MS Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. He has two children, Wright (Kalylee) and Thomas. He enjoys LSU athletics, tennis, golf and traveling in his RV. He also loves being on Lake St. John and spending time with family and friends.

And while Graning said the honor of being St. Patrick brings more than its fair share of fun, he also sees the opportunity to support his community.

“I feel like it’s a duty to be involved in our community,” he said. “That’s what we have to do to help make sure Natchez continues to thrive.”

It’s that type of community involvement that the Krewe of Killarney celebrates, said Eddie Walker, who with his wife Cathy serves as co-captain of the krewe.

“We support several institutions, including Holy Family Academy; Pleasant Acre Day School; and Cathedral School, Adams County Christian School and Natchez High School with scholarships each year,” Walker said. “We do good things with the funds we raise.”

The krewe boasts about 175 members, most of whom join in the traditional walking parade down Main Street on March 17. “And we probably have some folks who join who aren’t members of the krewe,” Walker said with a laugh.

Parade participants will gather at the family life center outside St. Mary Basilica about 5:30 p.m. and the walking parade will begin after Mass ends – rain or shine. “Unless it’s storming, we will be walking,” Walker said.

And, he added, everyone is invited to join.

“If you can be Irish on March 17, you can join,” Walker said.