The St. Patrick's Day Parade

While celebrations honoring St. Patrick can be dated back to around 1600 in Ireland, it seems clear that the St. Patrick's Day Parade appeared in the New World before one was ever held in Ireland.

The earliest documented St. Patrick's Day Parade in Ireland took place in 1785, when the fabled Dublin Castle "fancy ball" was cancelled. Regretting the cancellation, a group of Irish gathered at the Dublin Rotunda and marched through the gardens of the Rotunda area, prior to their own banquet.

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But, in 1762, a military procession of British soldiers of Irish origin honoring the Patron Saint of Ireland began at dawn, and with fifes and drums blaring, proceeded through the streets of New York. Almost a decade later, the officers of the Sons of St. Patrick marched through the streets of Boston. A military component connected the two events, as every man in Boston's 1775 parade was also a member of the British Army, and was, within a year, driven from Boston by the Continental Army.

In 1779 a St. Patrick's Day parade dubbed "Parade of the Volunteers" was held as a recruiting gimmick by the British. The parade consisted of Protestant Colonel Lord Rawdon leading rank and file Catholic
soldiers in a procession ostensibly to honor St. Patrick, but with the true purpose of encouraging Irishmen to join the British army.

The upper-lower class dichotomy between the Irish elite and the poor worker class was explicit in St. Patrick's Day celebrations into the mid-nineteenth century, with the well-to-do and politically connected celebrating with expensive dinners at expensive restaurants, while the poor were most likely to march in parades.

By the 1840s, the New York's St. Patrick's Day parade was being held yearly. and it remained a small, cultural based event for several years. A significant transformation of the parade occurred with the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-nineteenth century, and the influx of massive numbers of Irish to New York City. Within a brief few years, over one million new Irish emigrants would call New York home, and every year on March 17, they showed off their heritage, and their commitment to NYC, by marching through the city streets. Eventually the parade grew to include as many as 180,000 marchers and over two million spectators. The Parade has avoided much of the trappings of most modern parades, and remains almost exclusively comprised of marchers, including military, police, firefighters, and bands, disdaining giant balloons and floats and other motorized vehicles. The Parade is traditionally led by a pair of Irish Wolfhounds. The New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade is not only the oldest St. Patrick's Day Parade in the world, but is the oldest civilian parade in the world.

In Ireland, beginning in the late nineteenth century, with the beginnings of Irish unrest at British rule, British authorities viewed St. Patrick's Day parades as potentially political protest events, and a series of laws were passed restricting and regulating parades. Interestingly, while Irish Catholic events were heavily monitored and observed, and regulated, not so for more "sophisticated" Irish Protestant parades. Parades were allowed to continue for the reason that it was felt that cancellation would precipitate significant outrage and probable violent outbreaks.

Today, St. Patrick's Day parades are held in dozens of cities in every US state, all over the United Kingdom, and in countries as diverse and far apart as Copenhagen, Montserrat, and Dubai.

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