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LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: People prepare to take part in a St Patrick's day parade on March 18, 2012 in London, England. Thousands of people lined the streets for the parade and a concert in Trafalgar Square. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) Photo by: Getty Images

How the south and Atlanta celebrates St. Patrick’s Day

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LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: People prepare to take part in a St Patrick's day parade on March 18, 2012 in London, England. Thousands of people lined the streets for the parade and a concert in Trafalgar Square. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) Photo by: Getty Images

Outside the Beltway, the Five Boroughs, Boston, Philly and the rest of the Northeast US Megalopolis, all thick with Irish, and Irish-Americans with roots that are recent, St. Patrick’s Day is still, as Joe Biden might say, “a big deal.”

Here in Georgia Savannah, Georgia’s oldest and fourth largest city, hosts what is regarded as the nation’s second largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, with a half million people in attendance.

But in the Parade department, Atlanta is no slouch. This year’s Atlanta St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be our 132nd Parade and given the city’s extreme youth (founded as ‘Terminus’ in 1837, renamed ‘Marthasville’ in 1843, and finally Atlanta in 1845), at most 177 years old, we haven’t missed too many years. (More on that later.) And the Hibernian organization that sponsors it, the Hibernian Benevolent Society of Atlanta, was founded only in 1858.

Our Parade Grand Marshal will be Hon. Leo Varadkar, Minister of Tourism, Travel and Sport, and other invited guests and previous attendees include Sen. Johnny Isaakson and Rep. John Lewis.

The Atlanta Parade prides itself on being “family-friendly” and so we are particularly pleased this year to have a team of eight of the beautiful Budweiser Clydesdales, for the entertainment of children and grownups alike. Our Parade will kick off at noon this Saturday, our traditional date, rather than on March 17th, so as to maximize attendance (particularly of children). We will march right down Peachtree Street, although a bit North of the usual downtown route, due to construction of the new East-West streetcar line that will tie the historical Martin Luther King Jr. birthplace and historical area to downtown Atlanta.

Many of Atlanta’s Irish organizations, such as the Metropolitan Atlanta Police Emerald Society (MAPES), the Fire Emerald Society of Metropolitan Atlanta (FESMA), Clan na nGael (Irish sports), the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, etc. serve as co-sponsors or have floats in the Parade.

Mention should be made of two business and civic leaders, and one Monsignor, who helped upgrade our Parade. First, Monsignor Ed Dillon, pastor of Holy Spirit Church, and Dick Stormont, a prominent hotelier with a long career with Marriott and elsewhere, moved the Parade fifteen years ago from a small affair in Buckhead that revolved around bars and adult beverages, to something more grand and family-oriented in downtown Atlanta.

Second, three or four years ago, Dave Fitzgerald became Chair and further upgraded the event, funding it with an annual golf tournament at Peachtree Golf Club and employing professional management.

Thanks are due these men. (Remember five years ago, when during the NCAA March Madness, a tornado struck the Georgia Dome during a basketball game ? The Parade, scheduled for the following day, was cancelled. Yours truly was Parade chair then.)

Events kick off sooner than Saturday, however. This morning (Friday), the Irish Chamber of Atlanta hosted its twelfth annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, sponsored by Tourism Ireland, at Atlanta’s Capital City Club downtown. Consul General of Ireland Paul Gleeson introduced our speaker, Minister Varadkar.

We had a great crowd and a great event, capped by the reading of this year’s high school student winning essay, “What Saint Patrick’s Day Means to Me.” The winner brought tears to this writer’s eyes describing how he was inspired by St. Patrick’s struggles as an adolescent with his captors, in explaining how he worked to overcome his own deafness, to become the top student in his high school graduating class of 500.

Talk about a winner!

See our website www.irishchamberofatlanta.com for further information about this event, other activities and our organization generally.

At mid-day Friday, there will be the traditional laying of the wreath at Atlanta’s City Hall, near the burial place of Fr. Thomas O’Reilly.

Fr. O’Reilly was an Irish priest who, during the battle of Atlanta, convinced Union General William Sherman to spare not only the Catholic Church in Atlanta (many of the Union troops were Irish Catholics), but also the rest of the then existing Atlanta churches.

Atlanta’s many Irish pubs and restaurants will be busy over the weekend and through Monday, March 17th, particularly including Fado Irish Pub in Buckhead, which will have the street in front of it blocked for patrons.

(While there are Fado pubs around the United States, its first and its headquarters are here in Atlanta.)

For more information, see their website at www.fadoirishpub.com.

And you can’t swing a dead cat in this town at this time of year, without hitting an Irish musician.
Finally, a traditional St. Patrick’s Day Mass will be celebrated at 5.30 pm on Monday, March 17th by Archbishop Wilton Gregory at the Cathedral of Christ the King.

No, it is not New York or Boston, but we are PLENTY busy!

Why not join us here next year?

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