A Day for the Children of Immigrants
The first Irishman I ran into at the Mount Holly St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday was wearing a kilt, brandishing a blackthorn stick and waving the tricolor as he stood along High Street, watching the Col. D.B. Kelly Pipes and Drums march past.
His name was Steve Soviccki. He’s Irish on his mother’s side, he explained. In fact, he produced a photograph of his final resting place, a plot in County Clare. So I wished him a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and moved along.
The fact that not everyone who turns out for the Mount Holly Parade is Irish is actually one of the coolest things about it. The Burlington County Seat is a real melting pot. About 22 percent of the township is African American, according to 2000 Census figures. Just 13 percent of the people who live in Mount Holly claim Irish ancestry. And the rest are all over the landscape, demographically speaking, with about 15 percent German, 10 percent Italian, and six percent Puerto Rican in ancestry.
And yet, they’re all out there on this day devoted to a particular group of immigrants—but anyone whose grandparents came from Russia or Albania, or who themselves only recently arrived from India or Haiti, can identify with the experience.
Like St. Patrick’s Day Parades in small towns all over America, this one was peopled by bagpipers, dancers, traditional musicians, and people dressed up like leprechauns. It wasn’t long by Philadelphia standards, but to the folks of Mount Holly who stood out on a cloudy, windy and chilly day in March, it was plenty long enough, and a point of pride.