By LAURI GROSS
Each St. Patrick’s Day, crowds line Cleveland’s streets to cheer on approximately 10,000 participants in Ohio’s oldest St. Patrick’s Day parade. Perhaps we shouldn’t tell any of them that St. Patrick wasn’t Irish and was never canonized as a saint. Patrick – a Brit who lived during the first millennium – was held prisoner by Irish raiders and later was ordained as a Catholic priest. At that time, there was no formal canonization in the Catholic Church but, when Patrick helped spread Christianity throughout Ireland, the public likely proclaimed him a saint anyway.
Cleveland’s St. Patrick’s Day parade doesn’t quite date back to the first millennium, but it is believed to have begun in 1842, and the event has been a celebration of Irish heritage ever since.
With a theme of Salute to Irish American Athletes, this year’s event kicks off at 1:04 p.m. on Friday, March 17.
The colorful lineup promises thrills for the eyes and ears and typically includes groups such as police and firefighter units; arts groups; stilt walkers and polka dancers; equine, alpaca and dog groups; school marching bands; roller derby and rugby players; groups representing Cleveland’s sports teams and casino; Cleveland Metroparks and Lake Metroparks; bicycles; breweries; churches and much more.
The parade begins on Superior Ave. at the intersection with East 18th. It travels southwest on Superior Ave. to West Roadway for one block and then it will head northeast on Rockwell Ave., ending at the intersection of Rockwell and Ontario Street.
Without the United Irish Societies of Greater Cleveland, there would be no parade. Since 1958, its members have been the power behind every aspect of planning, organizing and presenting the event. But, of course, that wasn’t always the case. The parade’s nearly 200-year history is one of change, as described in an account written in 1995 by Lonnie McCauley (an Irish archivist who, in 2001, became the parade’s first woman Grand Marshal), with help from Raymond “Rip” Reilly (a long-time parade organizer and promoter and a Grand Marshal himself).
The diverse groups that organized the parade over the years included some that were explicitly Catholic and others that focused on promoting Irish Nationalism. In 1900, Cleveland’s most prominent paper, the Cleveland Leader, was anti-Irish and omitted any mention of the parade. In 1910, state senator Dan Mooney finally introduced a bill to recognize St. Patrick’s Day in Ohio.
Then, in 1912, the parade drew perhaps the largest crowd ever when it served as a welcome home for Cleveland boxer Johnny Kilbane, who had won the World Featherweight Champion Crown. That year, spectators travelled from as far away as New York and Chicago.
Marked by the Depression and war, the years from 1913 to 1935 saw only a smaller west-side version of the parade, rather than the big downtown spectacle. After that, the parade grew much larger and began once again to attract plenty of attention.
From 1935 through the mid-1950s, the Irish-American Civic Organization put the parade together. In 1958, when the United Irish Societies of Greater Cleveland first took over the task, they invited eight member groups to march in the parade. Today, there are 29 constituent groups who, together, choose the parade director, delegates and honorees, including the Grand Marshal, an honoree who has been part of the parade since 1935. The Mother of the Year honoree was added in 1963. Both of these honorary titles recognize people who significantly contribute to and inspire Irish people and activities in Cleveland.
This year’s Grand Marshal Michael F. “Mickey” Coyne leads the list of the 2023 St. Patrick’s Day Parade Honorees. This year’s honorees also include Mother of the Year Bridget Conway, and parade co-chairs Maureen Cavanaugh and Kevin McDonough.
In addition to honoring individuals, today’s parade committee presents prizes – at a banquet – to groups of parade participants in categories such as bagpipe band, children’s unit, honor/color guard, non-school band, novelty unit, parade theme float, precision drill team, and school band. This year’s banquet is April 16 at the Irish American Club Eastside.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee is 501(c)(3) so contributions are tax deductible. To support the parade committee, purchase a shamrock pin or sash, or donate directly at fundraising@StPatricksDayCleveland.com or call 216.393.7724.
Keep the fun going by watching videos of past parades at TV20, Cleveland’s YouTube Channel.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade anchors the all-day party downtown
By LAURI GROSS