Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Other parades may have more floats, more marching bands, more pipes and drums, more beauty queens, but Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day isn’t about the bells and whistles.
It’s about the people. Not just the ones who line the streets every year wearing silly hats, green boas, and flashing beads, but the ones they cheer and applaud: The Ancient Order of Hibernian and their Ladies divisions, the Irish societies, the union workers, the Irish Clubs, the high school groups, and all of those colorful dancers (we must have more of them than anyone else).
There were so many of them on Sunday March 15—more than in any other year—that even with a shortened parade route, the march went a little bit over schedule. But even with overcast skies, it was a beautiful day for the Irish. All you had to do to see the sunshine was look in the eyes of the hundreds of children who lined the parade route, jigged on their toes, or rode on a friendly shoulder.
While the parade is always about fun and fellowship, this year it took a poignant turn. Its theme: “St. Patrick bring us peace and prosperity” acknowledged the global economic recession and a local heartache: The loss, since 2006, of seven Philadelphia police officers who were killed in the line of duty. Their names appeared on the second banner that was carried in the parade. Behind it were the families and friends of the officers who were part of this year’s Ring of Honor, along with wounded Highway Patrolman Richard Decoatsworth. The Philadelpha Police and Fire Pipes and Drums as well as New York’s Emerald Society Police Pipe band accompanied them.
A number of floats and dance routines also honored the slain policemen. At the reviewing stand, a flock of white doves was released. They whirled once and then disappeared into the white sky.
The recession wasn’t forgotten. One band struck up Stephen Foster’s song, “Hard Times,” as it rounded the corner from 16th Street onto the Benjamin Franklin Parkway: “There’s a song that will linger/Forever in our ears/ Oh hard times come again no more.”
It was a reminder that the parade itself was a victim of financial hard times this year. A month ago, the city told parade organizers that because of a $1 billion deficit over the next five years, it could no longer provide the parade with free police, sanitation, bleachers, and reviewing stand. Cutting out the march up Broad Street saved $10,000, but there was still an additional $40,000 that needed to be raised to cover the shortfall. And that was on top of the estimated $60,000 the committee raised to pay for the event.
Several high rollers came to the rescue, including Joey Vento of Geno’s Steaks in South Philadelphia, a longtime supporter of the police department who also contributed to the Mummer’s when it hit budget snags this year, and Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., which pledged to match up to $20,000 in donations. But most of the money came from two big fundraisers–one held at Finnigan’s Wake and the other at the Springfield Country Club, featuring popular local Celtic band, Blackthorn–and from hundreds of local groups and individuals who contributed everything from thousands of dollars to $5.
Other parades may have more gloss and glitter, but Philadelphia’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has the luck of the Irish–its people.
As usual, we have hundreds of photos. Photos by Jeff Meade and Denise Foley.