When was the first Saint Patricks Day Parade?
The first St. Patrick's Day parade was not in Ireland, as many believe. It was in America. But exactly when the first parade was is unclear.
Some say it was held in Boston in 1737 by the Charitable Irish Society. According to others, the first St. Patrick's Day parade was in New York City on March 17, 1762 when Irish men fighting in the British colonial army held a parade celebrating their heritage. Still others say the first St. Patrick's Day parade was held in 1780 by the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick in Philadelphia.
Regardless of where the first Saint Patricks Day parade took place, it undoubtedly became an annual celebration of all things Irish that spread throughout Irish-American communities, Ireland, and indeed the world.
Saint Patricks Day in Ireland
Saint Patricks Day has long been a federal religious holiday in Ireland...with the usual closings that come with government holidays. Saint Patricks Day in Ireland has always been a day to attend church and have a feast in honor of Saint Patrick.
Until recently, their Saint Patricks Day parades and celebrations really paled in comparison to those in New York, Boston, Chicago, and the like.
However, not wanting to be outdone by we "Damn Yankees", they began trying to revive the holiday festivities in the mid-1990's. Since 1997, they have been gradually catching up to us, even extending the celebration. Rather than just celebrating Saint Patricks Day, Ireland now looks forward to the annual Saint Patrick's Festival.
The Saint Patrick's Festival lasts five days. So instead of the one day of celebration we have here in America, Ireland's Saint Patricks Day is part of a longer Festival. This provides many more opportunities to celebrate. The St. Patrick's Day Festival for 2007 is scheduled for March 15th through March 19th.
The Saint Patrick's Festival has something for everyone. Carnivals, visual arts, dance, theatre, music...you name it. The Irish know how to have fun and Saint Patricks Day is Ireland's biggest annual bash. Over a million people will attend to enjoy 4000 performers for five fun days.
Saint Patricks Day in America
Although the day has been a religious holiday in Ireland for some time, there are much bigger celebrations in America than in Ireland commemorating the day. We may not have five day festivals here, but there are five days worth of festivities in a single day each year. March 17th is the day everyone wants to be Irish in America.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 34.5 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry, compared to 4.1 million Irish people who actually live in Ireland. That means there are almost nine times more Americans with Irish heritage than there are Irish living in Ireland!
Why are there so many Irish-Americans? Because, there have been almost 5 million Irish immigrants registered in America since 1820.
The Irish in America
Until the Great Famine of the 19th century, most Irish immigrants in America were very rich. Passage from Ireland to America did not come cheap. Most immigrants from anywhere in the world were wealthy.
However, when the Famine struck Ireland, nearly a million people flocked to America fleeing from starvation. The Irish were the first wave of poor immigrants to come to America in great numbers. And the prejudice against them was fierce.
Saint Patricks Day parades in these years portrayed the Irish as "wild, drunken monkeys" rather than people who loved life and celebrated with great fervor.
After the turn of the century, many Irish families had gradually gained social status through the years and became a strong political force. One of the most famous examples is the patriarch of the Kennedy family, Joseph Kennedy. He had great power and influence both on Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (for better or worse, you decide).
With improved standing in American culture, St. Patrick's Day parades and celebrations evolved over the years. Boston, New York, and Chicago celebrate it with particular glee.
Every pub becomes an Irish pub March 17...serving corned beef and cabbage and green beer, with patrons in green who are miraculously all Irish for the day...celebrating how fun pretending to be Irish can be...much more than simply honoring the man for whom the day was originally intended to honor.
Saint Patricks Day Resources