The History of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade
The tradition of holding a parade on St. Patrick’s Day Parade began in its most famous annual location—New York City—where Irish soldiers brought a taste of their homeland to colonial Manhattan. Hundreds of years later, parade-watchers decked in green continue to line the city’s streets every March 17th for the popular event.
The world’s first recorded St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York City on March 17, 1762, held by Irish soldiers serving in the British army. Undoubtedly missing their home across the Atlantic Ocean, they marched in the parade to celebrate their Gaelic culture alongside their fellow Irish brethren in the ranks. It was a special opportunity to revel in Irish pride by wearing green—which was banned in England at the time—while freely speaking Irish and singing and playing along with Irish music. The rest, as they say, is history.
The holiday—celebrated since the 9th century, but only officially recognized in Ireland since 1903—honors Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, who was a highly successful Christian missionary and Roman Citizen born in Britain in the late 4th century. He was captured by Irish raiders at the age of 16 and transported to Ireland as a slave, where he spent six years in captivity before escaping back to Britain. He returned with the belief he’d been called by God to Christianize Ireland, so he joined the Catholic Church and studied for 15 years, before the church consecrated him as its second missionary to Ireland. Patrick began his mission to Ireland in 432, and had nearly converted the entire once-pagan island to Christianity by his death in 461.
Fast-forward more than a millennium later, and that first March 17, 1762, parade was just the beginning of what was to come. The many Irish settlers to the New World had brought the tradition of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to America, and by the mid-19th century—when immigration from Ireland surged—observance of the holiday had become widespread. Although the New York City parade remained the most well-known of the celebrations, towns across America had also started their own versions of the event.
Ironically, the St. Patrick’s Day parade didn’t become an institution in Ireland itself until 1931, when the first parade was held in Dublin. Since then, it has become a massive five-day, activity-filled festival, feauring food, music, theater and fireworks. The Gaelic island nation has certainly made up for lost time.
In New York, for the first few years the parade was organized by military units. But after the War of 1812, Irish fraternal and beneficial societies took over hosting and sponsoring the parade. Around 1851 the “Irish” 69th Regiment started to lead the march, while the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) became the official sponsor of the parade, merging the various individual societies under a single parade Grand Marshal.
Today, the 69th Regiment is still the first group to lead the parade up 5th Avenue, followed by various Irish societies, marching past St. Patrick’s Cathedral. In the early years, the parade marched past the Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral (now The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral) at the corner of Mott and Prince Streets in SoHo. The parade now starts at 44th Street and 5th Avenue at 11 a.m., and proceeds up the avenue to 79th Street. Approximately 150,000 people march in the NYC parade each year, in front of an audience of roughly 2 million onlookers, showcasing their Irish pride by waving a variety of Irish battle flags.
St. Patricks Day Parade Decorations and Supplies
Are you taking part in an upcoming St. Patricks Day parade? Make sure to have all of your necessary parade decorations! At Gettysburg Flag Works, we carry a variety of St. Patty’s Day supplies and decorations including St. Patty’s Day Banners and flags, sashes and more. You can even create your own custom banner or custom parade sash!
We hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the history of the parade. Join us as we celebrate the luck of the Irish this upcoming St. Patricks Day!