Float consisting of a truck decorated in the colors of the American flag with five people on it, one of them waving the Irish flag.

Boston’s take on St Patrick’s Day

Float saying "Happy Saint Patrick's Day" withh a leprechaun and a bunny on it.
One of the floats in the St Patrick’s Day parade! Photo: Muriel Heitsch

Happy St Patrick’s Day!

The 17th of March is, as you may know, the feast day of the patron saint of Ireland. That means that last Saturday practically all of Boston was out on the streets (and later in the pubs) to celebrate St. Paddy’s!

Irish History in Boston

Irish immigration into America has been taking place since colonial times. However, a key year to highlight is 1845, in which the infamous potato famine started in Ireland, causing famine throughout the country and leading to millions emigrating. A startling amount of the Irish, nearly 25% of the population, came to the United States. The large amount of immigration is reflected in demographics even today, with 23% of Bostonians claiming Irish ancestry.

Upon arrival in the United States, the migrants faced much discrimination. The majority of the women became domestic servants, whereas the men were mainly employed in the construction, mining or fishing industries and it took until the 1880s for the Irish Americans to start to gain political power. Nonetheless, one of the most famous Bostonian mayors in the 20th century was the Irish American John F. Fitzgerald, whose grandson John F. Kennedy would later go on to become President!

Group of people dressed in the old soldier uniform with rifles marching behind someone waving the Irish flag.
Soldiers marching in uniforms mimicking those worn to the time of the American revolution. Photo: Muriel Heitsch

However, the Irish have not only had a political influence on Boston but also a cultural one. A fun fact for all the basketball fans among us is that the name of the Boston basketball team, the Celtics, is of Irish origin and their mascot is a leprechaun! Fittingly, the team color is also green!

Two people smiling at the camera at the St Patrick's Day parade.
We definitely had a lot of fun at the parade! Photo: unknown

What to do!

Personally, I’ve never celebrated St Paddy’s, so I was very excited for it! The main highlight of the day was the St Patrick’s Day parade which has been taking place in Boston since the 18th century!

The parade featured a great variety of different floats and was surprisingly long! It started off with a bang at 1 pm with a huge confetti-explosion and then snaked its way through Boston’s South End, or Southie, as Bostonians call it. Some thematic organization within the parade was obvious, with local politicians driving or walking by first, followed by different military forces such as the Marines and Air Force and finally featuring small enterprises or clubs such as the Irish Wolfdog Association. There were various military-affiliated groups interspersed seemingly randomly throughout the parade, however. It was definitely fun to see how different the various floats were – some of them elaborately decorated to fit the Irish theme of the day and others with singers or speakers onboard to provide live music. Of course, the marching bands were also a highlight!

Irish wolfdog walking whilst being pet by a bystander in the parade.
One of the members of the Irish wolfdog association 😉 Photo: Muriel Heitsch

After the parade, many gathered in pubs and restaurants. Several actually have special St Patrick’s day menus featuring typical Irish dishes such as corned beef and roasted cabbage as well as pot pies! Some pizza restaurants also serve unusual pizzas, like corned beef and potato pizzas.

For the more history-interested, there is also the Irish Heritage Trail that I recommend checking out, connecting 20 landmarks that will help you further understand Boston’s Irish history!

Four fun facts

A green Hop-On-Hop-Off bus driving through the crowd as part of the parade.
The floats were all very different which kept the parade very interesting since we never knew what might come next! Photo: Muriel Heitsch
  • The first St Patrick’s Day parade was actually celebrated in America, albeit in Florida and not in Boston! It took place as early as the 17th century.
  • What stumped me at first was why it is St Paddy’s rather than St Patty’s. The answer here lies in the saint’s Irish Gaelic name, which is Pádraig.
  • Every St Patrick’s Day, the Chicago River is dyed a vibrant green! The so called “Leprechaun Dust” that is used is a vegetable-based powder, but the exact dye recipe has been kept a secret by the plumbers union until this day. Chicago says that the tradition is environmentally friendly and does not have an impact on drinking water or wildlife.
  • The original color associated with St Patrick’s Day was blue, not green! But what fun would a blue river be? 😉

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