Thoughts From Places Spotlight: Buffalo’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade (2014)

Monday, March 17, 2014

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My Experience at Buffalo’s Large St. Patrick’s Day Parade!

Why do many Buffalonians go out in the freezing cold to watch a bunch of drunk people wearing green walk down the street? Because it’s tradition.

Despite growing up in Buffalo, surrounded by Irish culture, I had never really paid attention to any of it because I'm not Irish. This year in part because of the turn my blog has taken and because of the History of Buffalo class I’m taking I decided to start paying attention.  My best friend Anne and her family are American-Irish who are proud of their past. They go to the large Delaware Avenue St. Patrick's Day parade every year and they let me tag along.

I have never seen so many people wearing so many different shades of green. They wore green pants, shirts, hoodies, coats, scarves, headbands, shoes and hats! So many Irish hats! I saw green caps, warm hats, hats with shamrocks, with the flag, with a Guinness logo, cowboy hats, golf hats, and so many top  hats, some were black, some were green, lots had buckles, many had red beards attached! Hats seemed to be the most common way of expressing oneself at the parade. I saw a lot of plaid and at least 50 men wearing kilts on the sidelines. I saw one man dressed up as a bottle of Guinness and I could also tell that he had had a few himself by the time I saw him.

Many people participating in the parade were dressed up as well. Many members of the bands wore kilts; some of the marchers wore long black peacoats with top hats, sashes and canes. There were several troops of traditional Irish dancers and a couple breeds of Irish dogs marching as well. I counted at least 6 people dressed up as St. Patrick. There were a few leprechauns ranging in age from 10 to 50, and bagpipes and traditional Irish dancers galore! A lot of the Delaware Avenue Parade seemed very stereotypically Irish to me though, from the multiple pots of gold and the giant box of lucky charms.

I figure that if I were to go to a St Patrick's Day parade in another city I would see all of that, too. However, our parade is different for many reasons. As the parade went on I noticed that a lot of the marchers were from unions. There were the iron workers, the craft workers, the heat and frost insulators, the sheet metal workers, and more. A sign on one truck said "keep the middle class unionized." Not long after a woman behind me said that it was "nice to see the unions out." It seemed appropriate that the unions were out celebrating an Irish holiday, especially when one considered that when the Irish first came to Buffalo in the early 1800s there would have been no way they could have unionized. Several local celebrities were also marching, including the major newscasters, Mayor Byron Brown, and Congressman Brian Higgins.

Anne and I during the Parade!
(I am in fact wearing green underneath all those warm clothes.)
Another thing that made our parade a Buffalo parade is that every truck honked out the ever familiar “Let's Go Buffalo” cheer and that every single person shouted it back at the top of their lungs. Personally, I don't think that the parade celebrated St. Patrick's Day so much as it celebrated the Irish's history in Buffalo. I overheard one man say that he “honestly thinks that the Parade is the best part of Buffalo!”

I can see now why many Buffalonians, Irish or not, go out every year to the Parade. Everyone is Irish in Buffalo during St. Patrick’s Day weekend!

If you would like to celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Buffalo one year, you can check out this parade on the Sunday before March 17th, or the smaller, more historical parade in the Irish First Ward on that Saturday. You can also check out the Irish Center on Abbott Road, or hit up one of the many Irish pubs that will no doubt be serving Corned Beef and Cabbage that weekend.