Shamrock: Get Lucky

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SHAMROCK EDC

Don’t let the vehicles speeding down I-40 give you the wrong idea: Life in Shamrock, Texas, is decidedly slower. It’s quiet and easy. It’s relaxed.

Except on St. Patrick’s Day.

A straight shot from Amarillo 93 miles east on the Interstate, Shamrock is located near the Texas-Oklahoma border. But in the middle week of March every year, this border town is only marginally Texan and definitely isn’t Oklahoman. It’s full-blown Irish.

The Shamrock St. Patrick’s Day Celebration is the biggest thing that happens on this side of the Panhandle every year, dating all the way back to 1938. This annual three-day event, taking place March 17-20, 2022, keeps getting bigger and bigger, and now includes a carnival and parade, 5K race, ranch rodeo, wing-eating contest, green beer pour, a Donegal beard contest, outdoor vendors and more. The high point of the celebration promises to be “The Big Dance” on Saturday evening, March 19, at the Shamrock Country Club, with music by Cody Canada & The Departed and Seth Ward & the Silence.

In fact, this year’s experience represents a milestone for the annual event. Shamrock’s 75th Annual Diamond Jubilee has gained attention all over the state, and in 2013 was designated by the State Legislature as the official St. Patrick’s Day Celebration for the State of Texas.

(Mostly) Good Luck

Shamrock’s history goes all the way back to the late 1890s, when a sheep rancher named George Washington Nickel—an Irish immigrant—applied to open a post office at his dugout home. He suggested the name “Shamrock” for good luck. Postal officials accepted his application, but the good luck didn’t quite take. Nickel’s home burned down just a few months later.

But the name stuck, and when the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway came through Wheeler County in the summer of 1902, the railroad named the stop Shamrock. The city incorporated in 1911. Once oil and natural gas were discovered nearby, its population had grown to nearly 4,000 by 1930. A local bandmaster named Glen Truax started the St. Patrick’s Day parade tradition in 1938, and the city has celebrated on the weekend nearest March 17 ever since.

That celebration has come to define Shamrock. Early St. Patrick’s Day weekends would bring up to 12,000 people to the town, and some years have seen as many as 30,000 visit. A popular destination during the weekend is Blarney Stone Plaza, at the intersection on East Second Street. Visitors encounter an actual piece of Ireland’s famous Blarney Stone, which arrived from County Cork, Ireland, in 1959 in an armored truck, presumably transporting its mystical powers from the Emerald Isle to the High Plains.

But a few days in March is not the only reason to visit Shamrock, as Route 66 road-trippers discover on a daily basis.

Route 66 Highlights

The town itself sits at the intersection of Route 66 and U.S. Highway 83 and represents the first Texas stop for travelers heading west on the Mother Road. This gives Shamrock plenty more to offer than green beer and a lucky parade. The town’s crown jewel is the historic Tower Station and U-Drop Inn, an art deco-style building completed in 1936. Once known as the “swankiest of swank eating places” along Route 66, this former restaurant and gas station once served as Shamrock’s first commercial business along the famous highway. Today, its iconic architecture brings tourists from as far as Russia, China and Australia. The building now operates as a community center and home to the town’s chamber of commerce. 

The U-Drop Inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, inspired a look-alike building in the animated film Cars, and is now home to a Tesla supercharger.

Another vestige of the Mother Road is the Magnolia Gas Station at East Second and Madden. Located in front of the Pioneer West Museum—a building which once served as the 1928 Reynolds Hotel—this station was privately restored several years ago.

The entire town rests in the shadow of the historic Shamrock Water Tower. Built in 1915 and 172 feet tall, it’s touted as the tallest historic water tower in Texas, visible to approaching drivers up to 10 miles away. Don’t miss an enormous mural displaying Shamrock’s history at the tower’s base.

Shamrock is easily worth a day trip from Amarillo, but if you wish to stay the night and enjoy retro accommodations, try the restored Route 66 Inn. Hungry? Locals love the Tower Plaza Cafe & Pizzeria or Tex-Mex flavors at El Sombrero.

And music lovers can’t help but enjoy browsing stacks and stacks of vinyl at Spinning Jenny’s House of Music, right down the street from Tower Station. Known for its colorful murals and live events, this vinyl shop has been featured in Texas Highways.

Plan your trip today at shamrocktexas.net.