Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the U.S.

Mummers parade in Savannah, Georgia during the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Mummers parade in Savannah, Georgia during the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.

By Patricia Harty, Michael Quinlin, Abdon Moriarty Pallasch, and Shannon Corcoran
April / May 2017

Some of the biggest and best celebrations of Ireland’s patron saint actually take place in America. New York may have the largest parade in the country, but it’s followed closely by Savannah, Georgia. And while the Boston parade has a long history, the Holyoke, Massachusetts parade rivals it for sheer color and gaiety. Here’s a sampling of parades across the U.S.

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Boston

Mounted police march in the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Mounted police march in the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

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A little Celtics fan gives high-fives during the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

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Boston Police Pipe and Drum Band in the parade.

Daniel Magoon.

Daniel Magoon.

The Boston Irish have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day for generations – some say the first parade occurred on March 17, 1737, when members of the newly formed Charitable Irish Society walked up Tremont Street from King’s Chapel to Old Granary Burying Ground to honor Ireland’s patron saint. But the large-scale Irish parades began after the 1850s, when the influx of Irish immigrants transformed Boston. A Boston Pilot notice on March 9, 1862 reported that “Irish Societies of Boston & Vicinity” would “celebrate the day by a public procession.” The parade started at Boston Common, wound its way around downtown, over the bridge to Charlestown and Cambridge, back to Boston, then over the South Boston.

In March 1901, the St. Patrick’s Day parade moved from downtown Boston to South Boston, where it was combined with another important holiday, Evacuation Day, which celebrates the evacuation of British troops from Boston in March 1776. The selection of Southie native Dan Magoon as Chief Marshal is especially relevant to the neighborhood itself, since South Boston has such a proud tradition of sending their sons and daughters into military service, going back to the Spanish American War and the American Civil War, and continuing through today. A paratrooper in the U.S. Army from 2003 to 2007, Sergeant Magoon completed three combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

– Michael Quinlin

Click here for photos from Boston’s 2017 St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Chicago

The Chicago River is dyed green each St. Patrick's Day.

The Chicago River is dyed green each St. Patrick’s Day.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (top, center left, waiving) marches in the 2016 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (top, center left, waiving) marches in the 2016 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Michael J. Healy.

Michael J. Healy.

Known around the world as the day the Chicago River is dyed green, the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade started 60 years ago when Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Plumbers Union moved the parade downtown from the city’s South Side to the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day.

Not to be outdone, thousands more revelers rise on Sunday morning to watch the South Side Irish parade through Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. Grand Marshal Martin J. Healy will lead the St. Patrick’s Day parade downtown.

An attorney, Healy led the fundraising effort to start the library at the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago and served as president of the Irish Fellowship Club and the Celtic Legal Society.

– Abdon Moriarty Pallasch

Click here to see photos from the 2017 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Chicago River dying.

Cleveland

St. Patrick's Day celebrants in front of Cleveland's Bishop William M. Cosgrove Center.

St. Patrick’s Day celebrants in front of Cleveland’s Bishop William M. Cosgrove Center.

Roger Weist

Roger Weist

This year marks 175 years of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland, Ohio. The very first parade was organized in 1842 by the city’s Rev. Peter McLaughlin, a proponent of abstinence from alcohol. His St. Patrick’s Day celebration began with mass at St. Mary’s on the Flats (the only Catholic Church in Cleveland’s city limits at that time), continued with a parade of the Catholic Temperance Society, and concluded with a banquet attended by friends and family members.

Throughout its history, various organizations have sponsored and participated in the parade. In 1958, the United Irish Societies of Greater Cleveland, Inc., took responsibility for all aspects of the parade.

This year’s Grand Marshal, Roger Weist, is a fixture in Cleveland’s Irish community who has spent the bulk of his life involved in the Hibernians, the Cleveland Feis, the Gaelic Society, the Cleveland Irish Cultural Festival, the Comhaltas, and Irish Northern Aid.

– Shannon Corcoran

Click here for photos of the 2017 Cleveland St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Detroit

Irish step dancers march on a rainy St. Patrick's Day Parade in Detroit.

Irish step dancers march on a rainy St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Detroit.

Brian Sean Dunleavy.

Brian Sean Dunleavy.

In 1959, the United Irish Societies sponsored the first St. Patrick’s Parade in Dearborn, Michigan.

The parade route follows along Michigan Avenue through the area known as Corktown. The neighborhood is Detroit’s oldest surviving neighborhood.

Brian Dunleavy will serve as the Grand Marshal of the 2017 parade, 27 years after his own father, Martin Thomas Dunleavy, walked Michigan Avenue in the same capacity.

Brian and his brother Tom opened Dunleavy’s Downriver in Allen Park in 1989 and 28 years later, Dunleavy’s remains one of Michigan’s last standing truly Irish-owned pubs. He is the president of the Fraternal Order of United Irishmen, past president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Dunleavy Division, and a host of other Irish organizations.

Click here for photos of the 2017 Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Holyoke

Every year colorfully-costumed Mummers march in the Holyoke St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Every year colorfully-costumed Mummers march in the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Turlough McConnell (left) is the 2017 Ambassador's Award recipient.

Turlough McConnell (left) is the 2017 Ambassador’s Award recipient.

Sister Jane.

Sister Jane.

The city of Holyoke, Massachusetts welcomes up to 400,000 people for the spectacular parade that includes international bands as well as the famed and elaborately costumed Philadelphia Mummers string bands.

The parade’s 66th Grand Marshal is Sister of St. Joseph Jane F. Morrissey, an educator, social justice activist, and humanitarian who has worked among the poor all over the world. One of the many highlights of the Holyoke parade kick-off, is the Ambassador’s Award Breakfast, held on the morning the parade. Turlough McConnell, contributing director of special features for this magazine, is this year’s recipient. Recent subjects he has covered for Irish America include the John J. Burns Library at Boston College and Titanic Belfast. For Quinnipiac University, he co-published the book, Celebrating 250 Years of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Pipe and drum bands in the 2013 Holyoke St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Pipe and drum bands in the 2013 Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

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Click here to see photos from the 2017 Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

New York

Above, a pipe and drum band marches in the  Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Above, a pipe and drum band marches in the Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Michael Dowling.

Michael Dowling.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City is the oldest in the country. The first parade was on March 17, 1762 and was made up of Irish soldiers serving with the British Army. It was 14 years before the Declaration of Independence.

The tradition of marching past St. Patrick’s Cathedral has remained unchanged with the exception of the address. In the early years, the parade would march past the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral (now Basilica) located at the corner of Mott and Prince Streets in SoHo.

Today, the parade marches up Fifth Avenue and is reviewed from the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral by His Eminence, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.

Grand Marshal Michael Dowling, the world-renowned healthcare professional (and Hall of Fame inductee) will lead the way this year.

“Michael Dowling is the true embodiment of the values we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day, a leader in a noble healing profession, an educator, a public servant, an Irish American who has made enormous contributions to his adopted country and who has made us all proud to be Irish,” said John Lahey, chair of the parade’s board of directors.

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The American Irish Historical Society — was abloom with Roses on St. Patrick’s Day, as Rose of Tralee contestants from Ireland, across the U.S., and as far away as Brazil and Germany stopped by to join in the festivities.  The “Roses” trip was organized by the New York Rose of Tralee committee.

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Philadelphia

Barney Boyce.

Barney Boyce.

The first documented St. Patrick’s Day celebration parade in Philadelphia was held in 1771, five years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, marking over 245 continuous years of celebrations. The current parade, which is hosted by the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association, was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in 1952.

The Phillie Phanatic marches in the Philadelphia St. Patrick's Day Parade.

The Phillie Phanatic marches in the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Barney Boyce will serve as this year’s Grand Marshal. Born and raised in Mallymore, Milford, County Donegal, Barney arrived in the U.S. in 1957. He was drafted into the U.S. army where he served in Germany for two years. Upon his return, he met and married Carmel from Trentagh, Letterkenny, County Donegal, in 1965. They settled in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia, where they raised their six children and Barney operated his own roofing company until retirement in 2007. Barney has served over 30 terms on boards or in positions of leadership for many organizations in the Philadelphia Irish community, including the Donegal Association, the Commodore Barry Club, the Irish Center and the Danny Browne Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 80.

Click here for photos of the 2017 Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

 Pittsburgh

Jan Griffith.

Jan Griffith.

The large Irish population of Pittsburgh have been holding a parade since March 17, 1869, and boast one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world, featuring over 23,000 participants, including marching bands, politicians, a host of Irish-heritage groups, and 200,000-plus spectators all “Irish for the day.” Jan Griffith is the 2017 parade Grand Marshal. She has been a member of the parade committee since 1992, and has served in many capacities prior to her current role as organizer.

Former Vice President Joe Biden in Pittsburgh.

Former Vice President Joe Biden in Pittsburgh.

“I started out addressing envelopes for the float committee, moved to promotions where I baked scones and made up baskets to take to radio stations,” Jan said. “In 2000, our chief marshal at the time, Jim Green, asked me to type up the lineup and announcer’s notes. The next year, we decided there was a better way and created a computer database, which I took over at that point.” Jan, whose maiden name is Allen, traces her ancestral Driscoll family roots to County Cork.

Click here for photos of the 2017 Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

San Francisco

A boy dressed as a San Francisco Police Department officer and an adult San Francisco Police Department officer.

A boy dressed as a City of Toyland Police Department officer with an adult San Francisco Police Department officer.

Irish dancers at the San Francisco St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Irish dancers at the San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Classic cars are a regular feature of San Francisco's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Classic cars are a regular feature of San Francisco’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Diarmuid Philpott.

Diarmuid Philpott.

The west coast’s largest Irish event celebrating Irish history and culture, the 166th Annual San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival, attracts some 100,000 revelers every year and is one of the city’s most popular events, according to FunCheapSF.

Grand Marshal Diarmuid Philpott, former San Francisco Police Department deputy chief, and an immigrant from Newmarket, County Cork, will lead the parade. After a stint in the army, he entered the police department in 1964 and rose through the ranks to deputy chief in 1994. All three of Diarmuid and his wife Mary Ann Leahy’s children, as well as their son-in-law, work for the San Francisco Police Department. Michael and Brian are lieutenants, Teresa a crime analyst, and Ivan is a police officer.

Click here for photos of the 2017 San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

St. Louis

An Army marching band in St. Louis's St. Patrick's Day Parade.

An Army marching band in St. Louis’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

John Saunders.

John Saunders.

Leading the 48th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in St. Louis will be parade founder and St. Louis Irish consul Joseph McGlynn, Jr.; parade committee chairperson Joe Milligan; honorary parade marshal John Saunders, president and chief executive officer FleishmanHillard (Irish America’s 2016 Business 100 Keynote Speaker); St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay; parade director Karen Lee; and other dignitaries.

The parade, also known as St. Louis’s “Rite of Spring,” will feature over 130 units, including floats, bands, marching units, large helium-filled balloons, and over 5,000 marchers.

A Marine color guard from the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, based in St. Louis, will lead the parade. In the past more than 350,000 spectators have gathered along Market Street to watch the elaborate floats, marching bands, marching units, dance groups, animal units, novelty units, and motorized units. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade Run will precede the parade that morning. Over 8,000 runners, walkers and wheelchair racers of all ages participated in the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day run.

An inflatable leprechaun is carried through the St. Louis St. Patrick's Day Parade.

An inflatable leprechaun is carried through the St. Louis St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Click here for photos of the 2017 St. Louis St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

For Fox KTVI 2’s Facebook live stream of the St. Louis St. Patrick’s Day Parade, click here.

Savannah

Drummers drumming at the Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Several drummers drumming at the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

Michael Foran.

Michael Foran.

The Savannah St. Patrick’s parade is the second oldest parade in the country after New York City’s, coming in at 192 years.

For the Savannah Irish, this great parade represents a culmination of weeks of festivities and Irish heritage functions, beginning with the greening of the fountain in historic Forsyth Park.

This year’s Grand Marshal, Michael Foran, has been a member of the St. Patrick’s Day Committee for 40 years. After Foran was invested, the St. Vincent’s Academy Chorale sang a selection of Irish songs.

Foran’s daughters, Madeline and Lizzie, stepped forward from the choir to sing their father’s favorite song, traditional Irish ballad, “Danny Boy.” His sons Michael A. Foran Jr. and William Joseph Foran will serve as grand marshal aides.

Click here for photos of the 2017 Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade. ♦

One Response to “Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day Parades in the U.S.”

  1. Wow, pretty impressive. You covered the whole country including my beloved San Francisco. Lot of overweight people in parades!

    Tagus dut.

    Peadar

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