Boston was the host of the first St. Patrick’s Day celebration in America in 1737. The city continues that tradition with South Boston’s Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which is the second largest in the United States. At the original event in Boston, Irish immigrant workers marched to protest their unhappiness with their low social status and the difficulty of obtaining jobs in America. The march was on St. Patrick’s Day because it was also meant to express the immigrant’s Irish patriotism and celebrate their Irish heritage. The capital city of Massachusetts has an extensive Irish history with many Irish immigrating to Boston during the Potato Famine in the mid-1800s. Currently, about 25% of the population of Massachusetts is of Irish descent, which makes Massachusetts the most Irish state. Boston has more Irish pubs than any other city in the United States.
The Boston parade began in 1901. March 17th celebrates Irish culture by commemorating Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. March 17th also marks Evacuation Day in Boston, when in 1776 the British royal troops were evacuated from the city. The British were provoked by guns that were stolen at Ticonderoga and set up under General George Washington’s command on Dorchester Heights. The city of Boston sponsored celebrations of Evacuation Day, including the 125th anniversary in 1901 with a concert, parade, and fireworks display. Starting in 1947, the parade was organized by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council.
The history of the South Boston Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is mostly without incident. The common issues are generally public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. However, beginning in 1992, there was tension because the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston requested a spot in the parade. When the Allied War Veterans Council prohibited the group from marching, they claimed discrimination, and the group was granted a court order allowing them to march. The Council continued to appeal the decision. In 1995, Hurley v. Irish-American Gay Group of Boston went to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided that even though the parade was a public event, it was organized by a private group who had the right to exclude certain groups.
The Allied War Veterans of South Boston start organizing the celebration in August each year. The parade travels through South Boston, which is the city’s most Irish neighborhood. Currently, between 600,000 and one million people come to Boston to view the parade each year. The entire parade is shown live on television and even watched overseas by men and women in the United States Armed Forces. The parade is around three hours long and has over 100 groups participating with about 20,000 participants. There are floats, bands, color guards, and every branch of the armed services is represented. Many marching bands and pipe bands come from Ireland and all over the United States to march in the South Boston parade.
The 2011 South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade is on Sunday, March 20th and steps off at 1 p.m. The Boston parade begins at the Broadway T Stop. Marchers head down West Broadway, East Broadway, East 4th, 5th St, around Thomas Park, down Telegraph Street, Dorchester Street, and the parade ends at Andrew Square in South Boston. The route is three miles long and the best viewing areas for the parade are along Broadway or Dorchester Street. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a family event and Boston Police enforce laws to prevent public drinking. Irish pride will be in full force in 2011 as Boston celebrates 150 years of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.
photo credit: Bryan Maleszyk,Bryan Maleszyk