A history of Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day parade
1812: Hibernian Society of Savannah formed by 13 Irish Protestants to help needy Irish immigrants.
March 17, 1813: First private observance of St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah by the Hibernians.
March 17, 1818: Parade by the “Fencibles” (defense force), an unidentified group.
March 17, 1824: First public procession by the Hibernian Society.
1830: First time no parade was held. The Hibernians did meet and have their annual meeting.
1856: The parade took place on March 24. It was deferred out of respect for Holy Week and Easter on March 23.
1862: Civil War raging. It was the second time no parade was held.
March 18, 1863: At Liberty and West Broad streets (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) St. Patrick’s Church’s cornerstone was dedicated.
1864: Civil War raging. The third time the parade was not held.
1867: No parade held because the 17th fell on a Sunday though the Irish Union Society went to Mass and the Hibernians had their meeting later in the week.
1870: The inception of the office of “Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah.”
1875: Celebration had two grand marshals, James D. Reynolds for the procession to the church and Michael J. Doyle for the parade. Also the first units that could be classified as floats were entered.
1882: Celebration was held to dedicate the new St. Patrick’s Church. The church was located on the Southeast corner of West Broad (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) and Liberty Street. It was demolished in 1941.
1888: The Sgt. William Jasper Monument in Madison Square is unveiled and dedicated in February. President Grover Cleveland was invited to the dedication but only spent about an hour in the city.
1894: The Middleton Military
1903: Twenty-five cadets from Benedictine Military School join the parade, starting a tradition that continues today.
1905: Dignitaries begin riding in carriages.
May 1912: President William Howard Taft was invited for the parade and the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Hibernian Society, but was unable to participate. He did attend the Hibernian banquet, which was rescheduled to accommodate him.
1918: World War I raging. Parade not held, but Hibernians march to Mass. It was the fifth time there was no parade.
1921: No parade held in respect for Irish revolution being fought. It was the sixth and last time there was no march.
1926: St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee formed.
1956: The 100th St. Patrick’s Day parade celebrated, even though it technically wasn’t the 100th parade.
1961: The Savannah River dyed green.
1962: Former President Harry S. Truman attends the parade.
1971: USS Savannah sails up the Savannah River as part to the festivities. Savannah is a multi-purpose ship and the fifth named for the city.
1973: Tradition of having a chaplain started. The Rev. Joseph F. Ware assisted Grand Marshal Aloysius “Al” Handiboe Jr.
1974: Lt. Gov. Lester Maddox rides his bike backward in the parade.
1978: President Jimmy Carter, who rode in the 1972 parade as Georgia’s governor, addresses the Hibernian banquet and makes a quick visit to Pinkie Master’s lounge.
1979: U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell speaks at the Hibernian banquet.
1982: A police officer is stabbed trying to break up a fight on River Street. Shriners refuse to march after the parade committee asks them to cut the number of units.
1983: “Erin Go Bare” becomes the unofficial motto as young women go topless on River Street. Use of video cameras and arrests in subsequent years stifles future demonstrations. In December, the Celtic Cross monument is dedicated in Emmett Park.
1986: The annual wreath laying at the Celtic Cross begins.
1996: David John Kelsey Jr., an Emory University student, falls into the Savannah River and drowns during River Street festivities on March 16.
1997: Monsignor Daniel J. Bourke is the second clergyman chosen as grand marshal.
1999: City Council agrees to control access to River Street with temporary fencing and require alcohol drinkers to buy wristbands. Plan is aimed at improving safety and controlling the rowdy atmosphere. Last year for plastic 32-ounce “to-go” cups.
2000: Parade route shortened from 2.5 miles to 2 miles. Parade entries decreased from 315 to about 250. The idea is to make the parade easier on those marching and those watching. First year for smaller “to-go” cups. The plastic cups, used for outdoor drinking, were reduced from 32 to 16 ounces after 1999 parade.
2001: Parade route changed slightly to go left around Lafayette Square.
2002: The Shriners are invited to include some of their numbers. They refuse to cut the number of units and don’t march. Portions of Bay Street are closed on Friday and Saturday nights to facilitate public safety.
2003: The Shriners again refuse to march if their numbers are limited. With most of the local military deployed to Kuwait, family members march in their place.
2004: The Savannah Waterfront Association threatens not to gate River Street and host the yearly party. After some tense negotiations with the city, the association agrees to business as usual. The parade is marred by an accident caused by an out-of-control car driving through parade participants and onlookers in Wright Square. The Rev. Joseph Ware becomes the third clergyman to lead the parade when he is selected grand marshal with no opposition.
2005: Shriners return to the parade with a smaller number of units.
2006: Cameras are used to monitor illicit activities.
2007: The city tries to limit partying by stating folks cannot camp out in squares until 3 p.m. the day before the parade, no tables or tents can be set up until 6 a.m. the day of the parade, coolers are restricted until the same time and tents cannot be larger than 10 by 10 feet. The city also adds metal barriers to parts of the parade route in an attempt to control the crowds. Police utilize 3-wheeled scooters for faster response to problems.
2008: The parade takes place March 14 as the 17 is Monday of Holy Week.
Sources: “The Days We’ve Celebrated” by William L. Fogarty; Savannah Morning News files