Green in the Steel City: Saint Patrick’s Day in the ‘Burgh
March 18, 2017
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What do you get when you combine an Irishman with a Pittsburgher? A leprechaun with the ugliest accent in America! Stereotypical jokes aside, though, the Irish have a long history in Pittsburgh. Even now, 13.5% of the city’s population is of Irish descent – one of the highest percentages in a major U.S. city. Pittsburgh is well known for its grand St. Patrick’s Day parade and many associated events. While this may seem an odd time to talk about festivities that happened a week ago, yesterday was the actual St. Patrick’s Day, so let’s look at the history of one of the city’s favorite holidays.
Pittsburgh’s tradition of a St. Patrick’s Day parade began in 1869, when a train of people marched down the street on the 17th of March and were promptly blocked by a bunch of wagons and mules. Despite these ignominious beginnings, the parade gathered steam over the years, and in 1874 the Pittsburgh Leader was already charting out the event’s progression along the streets of the city (some of which no longer exist today). By the time of the 1950 parade Mayor David L. Lawrence was marching right along with the rest of the procession. Even in 1956, when the parade was suspended as a result of 9 inches of snow, 200 men marched on – and though the police chief at the time remonstrated the marchers, he too fell into the great green line. At present, Pittsburgh’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of the largest in the country, with around 23,000 joining the procession every year, consisting of around 200 groups and 18 floats and bands. It is estimated that 100,000 people watch the parade and thousands more also go out to drink and party.
Over the years the festivities surrounding St. Patrick’s Day have also expanded, with the Irish Fair in the Square for kids and families happening on the day of the parade, and the Button Party, a mass, a communion breakfast, the crowning of Miss Irish Smiling Eyes, and the Pittsburgh Irish Festival happening on the days before, during, and after the parade.