The Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade is held annually on the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day. If St. Patrick’s Day is on a Sunday it’s held on St. Patrick’s Day. Thousands of people line the streets of Philadelphia to see over 150 groups take part in the event.
The earliest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Philadelphia was held in 1771. By 1850 there were 70,000 Irish immigrants living in Philadelphia. Special events to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day were held in Philadelphia during the 19th century. In 1859 military marching units marched through the city on St. Patrick’s Day. From 1870 until 1900 a large number of temperance groups marched in the Parade. There were not many organized parades in the city during the 1930s and 1940s, the Irish people of Philadelphia were more concerned with hunger marches.
After World War II Philadelphia resumed the parades, and had its official beginning when the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association started hosting the event. An Executive Committee was formed to oversee the many details that were necessary to make it successful. Civic leaders worked to increase the number of participants. They reported that 65,000 people marched in the 1953 St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and was viewed by 100,000 people. Contributions from Irish organizations, Catholic parishes and individuals provided funds for the event. Parade costs rose from $3,000 in 1957 to $7,000 in 1965. An annual fundraising luncheon was started to help with the expenses. The event has a different theme each year that relates to St. Patrick. The theme in 2002 was Saint Patrick Bless Our Fallen Heroes of 9/11/01. The theme for 2006 was St. Patrick, Bless the Irish and Their Descendants, Who Made Great Contributions to America. The 2007 theme was St. Patrick the Teacher, Bless Our School Communities and Their Families.
Irish associations march in the parade and Irish dancers perform and there are a number of bands and floats. Awards are given each year to winning participants. The Hon. James H.J. Tate Award is presented to the group that best exemplifies the spirit of this parade. Two awards for dance groups are the Walter Garvin Award for an outstanding children’s dance group and the Marie C. Burns Award for an outstanding adult dance group. The Maureen McDade McGrory Award is given to an outstanding children’s Irish dance group that uses traditional dance to exemplify the spirit of the Irish culture. Awards given to musical performers are the Vincent A. Carroll Award for an outstanding music unit and the Anthony J. Ryan Award for an outstanding grade school band. The George Costello Award is presented to an organization with an outstanding float.
photo credit: Irish Philadelphia Photo Essays