By Will Sammon
On St. Patrick’s Day, almost everyone wants to be Irish, however, not everyone really knows why. New York City, from 44th Street to 86th Street, will be the biggest site of green attire and leprechaun attitude on March 17, the date of the annual holiday. But how does any of that, and all the beer drinking, relate to the importance of St. Patrick and the origin of the parade?
The History Behind St. Patrick
The answer, as you may have guessed, is nothing. But that is not to say you should not celebrate it, especially if you are of Irish descent.
The presumption that St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland is largely a myth, according to Seamus Boyle, national president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, Inc. (AOH). He did, however, convert many Irish people to Catholicism. The Order is a Catholic Irish American fraternal organization founded in New York City in 1836. Within 200 years of Patrick’s arrival, Ireland was completely Christianized.
St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the turn of the 4th century. At the age of 16, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who attacked his family’s estate. They whisked him away to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity.
According to his writing, God’s voice told him to leave from Ireland, and after more than six years of being held captive, the saint escaped. He walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he was held, to the Irish coast.
After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation — an angel in a dream told him to return to Ireland as a missionary.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade marched for the first time on March 17, 1762, 14 years before the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Today, it is the largest parade in the world, according to parade secretary Hilary Beirne.
To this day, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade remains true to its roots by prohibiting floats, automobiles and other commercial aspects in the parade. Every year 150,000 to 250,000 marchers, many bagpipe bands, politicians and approximately two million spectators lining up on Fifth Avenue, are involved in the celebration, according to the parade committee.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is run by a private corporation, The New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. The parade workers and committee members are all volunteers.
The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York was held on lower Broadway in 1762 by a band of homesick Irish expatriates and Irish military serving with the British Army stationed in the American colonies in New York City, according to Beirne. This was a time when the wearing of green was a sign of Irish pride and was banned in Ireland. The parade participants reveled in the freedom to speak Irish, wear the green, sing Irish songs and play the pipes to Irish tunes that were deeply meaningful to the Irish immigrants who had fled their homeland.
The Parade starts at 44th Street at 11 a.m. and is held every March 17, except when March 17 falls on a Sunday; it is celebrated the day before, because of religious observances. The parade marches up Fifth Avenue, past St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 50th Street, all the way up past the Metropolitan Museum of Art and American Irish Historical Society at 83rd Street to 86th Street, where the parade finishes around 4:30 to 5 p.m.