How Local Associations Help Get Communities in the St. Patrick’s Spirit

Community groups around the country help cities put on annual parades on St. Patrick’s Day—including one that pulls it off with just a 98-foot-long route.

St. Patrick’s Day, coming up this Saturday, promises to bring a little Irish luck to just about everyone.

And one way people will get into that Irish spirit will be through parades taking place nationwide. And those parades, more often than not, are put on by local associations.

An example is Philadelphia’s annual parade, the 2018 edition of which took place on March 11. The parade has a long history in Philly, dating to 1771, with the modern version of the parade being organized by the local St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association, a group formed in 1952.

And Philly may not even hold the mantle for having the oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade. New York City, for one, has had one since 1762; that one was, for years, organized by the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the country’s oldest Catholic fraternal organization. However, the parade was spun off in 1992 and is run by a separate company.

And these cities are far from alone on this front: In Great Falls, North Dakota, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Downtown Great Falls Association help organize that city’s parade. Milwaukee gets some help from the Shamrock Club of Wisconsin for its annual parade, which took place March 10. And Minneapolis has been putting on a parade since 1969 with the help of the Minneapolis St. Patrick’s Day Association—but sister city St. Paul, with its Saint Patrick’s Association, has been putting one on since 1967.

Edward Devitt, a onetime congressman and federal judge who represented St. Paul, is said to have been deeply involved with that parade during his life.

“This is a natural center for a St. Patrick’s Day parade, because there are so many Irish,” he said, per the parade website.

While St. Patrick’s Day parades are clearly a phenomenon steeped in tradition, it’s not one immune to reinvention. That came along in 2003, when patrons of an Arkansas bar came up with the idea of the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The event, which takes place along a 98-foot stretch of road, drew thousands of people to the event on March 17, 2004. Since then, the local convention and visitors bureau, Visit Hot Springs, has offered support to the annual event, which this year sports the Budweiser Clydesdales, the guy from Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder), the guy from NSYNC who was in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Joey Fatone), and, in a first for the 15-year-old event, an actual marching band.

The parade may not be very big, but it’s very much a big deal.

Scenes from the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (Handout photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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