For those of a certain age, the name Hyman Pressman will conjure memories of an indefatigable public servant who wrote poetry. Baltimore’s comptroller from 1963 to 1991, Pressman liked to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade with a shillelagh.
“He was a character,” said Bill Driscoll, who works for Baltimore City Hall President Jack Young. “He was an independent. He took on the utility companies. Hyman Pressman fought for the little guy.”
Each year on St. Patrick’s Day, Hyman Pressman proudly displayed his shillelagh which was given to him by a Jesuit priest, Joseph Dougherty and Joseph William Lanasa, who was from a family active in Baltimore’s politics. A metal band is secured to the knob of the shillelagh bearing all three of the men’s names.
This year, the Pressman shillelagh travels from Mt. Vernon, up Charles Street, left on Pratt and onto Gay Street gripped in the hand of Irish American Bill Driscoll.
“My granddaughter, Julianna Driscoll escorts me on one side and my niece, May Berger, on the other,” said Driscoll, a native of Dorchester, Massachusetts. Driscoll’s family moved to Baltimore when he was a child. However, Driscoll has traced his roots to the Driscolls of Baltimore, Ireland. His maternal ancestors are from nearby Clear Island, “one of the few places in Ireland where they still speak Gaelic,” he added.
Shillelaghs, immortalized in Irish songs–think of shillelagh law in “Finnegan’s Wake”–were used to settle differences, bataireacht, several hundred years ago. Made from black thorn or oak, shillelaghs were smeared with butter and placed on chimneys to cure, giving them their black, shiny appearance. Shillelaghs could also be hollowed at the knob where they were gripped and filled with molten lead to make them “loaded sticks.”
City Comptroller Pressman was a familiar site walking down Charles Street brandishing his shillelagh at the St. Patrick’s Day parade. On the photograph of him from the 1972 parade he wrote:
I am City Comptroller
I write poems on city time
I don’t understand iambic pentameter
So I just try to make them rhyme
Erin go bragh!
In fact, when Hyman Pressman died in 1996, he was buried on St. Patrick’s Day. His service at Sol Levinson & Brothers in Northwest Baltimore began just as the Baltimore St. Patrick’s Day parade ended.
To honor Pressman, Irish American Bill Driscoll will carry his shillelagh, which was given to him by Frank Lidinsky, son of Richard A. Lidinsky, Pressman’s deputy for decades. “Hyman Pressman left his shillelagh to Frank’s dad and I am proud to carry it on St. Patrick’s Day,” Bill Driscoll said.
In 1974, Hyman Pressman wrote the poem, Irish American Day:
Every Irish heart beats gayer
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day,
As the Ancient Irish prayer
Makes us all feel bright and gay.
May your arms be full of power.
May you have your daily bread,
May you get to heaven an hour
Before the devil knows you’re dead.