In the nearly 14 years I have lived in Boston, one of things I have come to enjoy the most is the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade which takes place the Sunday before the formal celebration of Ireland’s best known patron saint. I have just returned from my 12th St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
People who know me might be surprised by my regular attendance at this gathering. The first thing people associate with St. Patrick’s Day is copious consumption of alcohol. I don’t touch the stuff. In fact, I have been a teetotaler for more than 20 years. But from where I stand the St. Patrick’s Day means more than a pint of Guinness.
First, the parade takes place in the neighborhood of South Boston. Popularly known as Southie, it is a world unto itself. It is truly Ireland in America. One is reminded of this when viewing the mural on the corner of West Broadway and C Streets which quotes Padraig Pearse’s graveside eulogy of Irish nationalist Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in 1915, “Ireland Unfree Will Never Be at Peace.” Although Southie is more ethnically diverse today, its Irish character remains front and center.
The second reason I attend is the parade route. While many people who attend a parade pick a spot and watch the proceedings in their entirety. I prefer to walk the parade’s entire procession. It begins in Southie’s business district on West Broadway at the Broadway stop on the MBTA’s Red Line. As it moves up East Broadway the route becomes far more residential with people watching the parade on their apartment rooftops.
My favorite part of the route is when the parade rolls onto the back and side streets — right on P Street, right on East 4th Street, left on K Street (no lobbying there) and then right on East 5th Street. Some of these streets are really tiny and its residents are treated to an entire parade steps away from their front doors.
A left turn on G Street takes us past Dorchester Heights which overlooks both downtown Boston and Boston Harbor. This would be the Dorchester Heights that was captured by the Continental Army led by George Washington on March 4, 1776.. Thirteen days later, the British to evacuate — on St. Patrick’s Day to be exact. So March 17 in Boston is also known as Evacuation Day.
After walking down G Street a left turn brings us onto Dorchester Street which takes us to the final destination to the MBTA’s Andrew T stop. Dorchester Street can get awfully crowded so in recent years I’ve taken some of the side streets to get to Andrew.
There is an informality about the parade route. Although the Boston Police like to keep people on the sidewalk, it is not unusual to see people cross the street during the parade and even march alongside the floats. It is also not unusual for people participating in the parade to disembark from their float to have pictures taken with the residents many of whom are their neighbors. One year, I remember seeing several police officers make their way inside a house with a placard, “Cold Beer. Hot Women.”
This brings me to the people who are marching in the parade. The biggest applause is reserved for police, firefighters and those serving in the military from Massachusetts. The first time I attended the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade was in 2002. Only six months after the attacks of September 11, 2001, it included members of the NYPD, FNDY and PAPD.
Over the years, I have also seen the likes of Darth Vader and The Imperial Storm Troopers, the Queens University Marching Band from my home and native land and former WWE Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund. This year Local 17 of the Sheet Metal Workers Union dressed up as the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Believe me they had plenty of heart. Well, Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have.
This year, however, the parade is about who isn’t marching. Mass Equality, a LGBT rights group, tried to get a group of gay veterans invited to march in the parade. The Allied War Veterans Council of South Boston, which organizes the parade, has denied their request and denied they even exist. However, the gay veterans begged to differ. The Allied War Veterans doesn’t want to see gay veterans march in the open. So under what branch of the U.S. military do Darth Vader and The Imperial Storm Troopers serve?
Well, Sam Adams (the brewery not the Founding Father) has withdrawn its sponsorship of the parade because the gay veterans won’t be allowed to march openly. While standing on East Fifth, I heard a woman say, “The corner store won’t be carrying any Sam Adams.” I think she was referring to the Cornerstone Pub. ( Needless to say, Southie isn’t taking Sam Adams’ indignation quietly. Their indignation might soon be directed at newly elected Boston Mayor Marty Walsh also announced he would not be marching. To be fair to the Allied Veterans, they did permit a Diversity Float which was organized by a same sex couple.
Nevertheless, this may have affected attendance at this year’s parade which I noticed was down from previous years. Then again we are less than a year removed from the Boston Marathon bombing and I know there are some people skittish in attending a large public gathering.
Although I disagree with the decision of the organizers not to invite the gay veterans, it didn’t keep me away from the parade and it won’t in the future.
I also attend for personal reasons. To start with, I have my mustache to show off. For the past couple of years, I have been sporting a handlebar mustache which I wax. I get comments on it all the time. But the day I get the most comments on it is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade when people have far fewer inhibitions than normal. While a majority of the comments come from young men who wish they could grow one, there are a few women out there who I like the way I “rock the ’stache.”
I attend the parade because it is an impending sign of spring. Although during the 2012 parade, the temperature hit 70 degrees. The past two years the winter air still circulated. Whatever the weather at the parade; Opening Day at Fenway is but a fortnight away. For me, it is a time of renewal. As such, I will be attending Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for long as I can.