Tá fáilte romhat!The First St. Patrick’s Day Parade
In 17th and 18th century Ireland a British rule prohibited public demonstrations by the Irish, allowing them only the right to religious processions. In order to get around that British rule, on St. Patrick’s Day the Irish held “religious processions” after Mass through the streets of Dublin. From this act of defiance against the British, our modern-day parades evolved.
The newly formed New Haven Hibernian Provident Society sponsored the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade held in New Haven, Connecticut on March 17, 1842, which makes this one of the oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parades in New England and the sixth-longest-running parade in America.
On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1842, the procession, headed by the New Haven Blues Band, marched up Chapel Street to York Street to the Catholic Church on Mount Pleasant where Mass was held. After Mass the Hibernian Society marched through State, Elm, York and Chapel Streets, to the Exchange Saloon located at the corner of Church and Chapel Streets, where all gathered to sing songs about Ireland and St. Patrick. (The Exchange Saloon was a hall, not a drinking saloon.)1874 Parade
In 1874 one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parades took place. Some newspaper reports stated that there were 4,000 marchers and others claimed 6,000. Trains early that day brought in thousands of people from Hartford, New Britain, Middletown, and Portland. Horse-drawn streetcars brought people from the countryside to view the parade. Long before it began, several of the societies could be seen congregating at the different clubrooms, accompanied by the bands which were to accompany them in the line of march.
According to the newspaper report, drizzling rain resulted in two inches of mud on the Green, making assembly of the parade units difficult. As the marchers stepped off, heavy rain made the muddy streets worse. The line, however, filed out of the Green in good order, started down Chapel Street to Church Street, and passed the reviewing stand in front of City Hall in review of his Honor Mayor Lewis and city authorities. The Parade started and finished just as the organizers planned.The Paradeless Years
In 1885 the Irish societies voted not to hold a parade on the advice of Catholic priests. It was argued that the money raised to fund the parade should instead be given to the needy. For many years following, the Irish in New Haven did not have a parade but rather celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by going to Mass and wearing a green necktie or sporting a sprig of shamrock. Individual clubs sponsored dances and concerts but there was no community celebration in the form of a parade.
From 1885 to the 1920s there is no historical mention in the news media of St. Patrick’s Day Parades being held in New Haven. In 1921, 1922, and 1923 there were small parades held late in the day with only a few bands taking part. One band was the Irish Bagpipe Band from New Jersey, and another was the Irish American Drum Corps, and they paraded through the center of the City in honor of St. Patrick. Usually some of the bands ended up at banquets to entertain the guests.
Even though no parades were held during the late 1920s, 30s, and 40s, religious services honored St. Patrick. According to the newspaper, after church some Irishmen who belonged to the Irish Rifle Club met for a friendly shoot at the Quinnipiac Range.The Civil War Years
During the Civil War years only two St. Patrick’s Day Parades were held, one in 1862 and another in 1865. Hundreds of Irish men in New Haven had volunteered in 1861 when President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to serve their country. They joined several regiments, one of which was dubbed the Irish Regiment. The valiant Ninth Volunteer Regiment of Connecticut, whose commander was Colonel Thomas M. Cahill, a member of one of the local Irish societies, was an outgrowth of a state militia company formed in 1849 of Irish born and naturalized citizens of Irish birth. The regiment left New Haven on November 21, 1861 numbering 845 men. It remained in service all through the Civil War and engaged the enemy in numerous encounters. (A monument to this Irish regiment was dedicated in 1903, in the City Point section of New Haven, on the grounds where the regiment was formed and drilled.)
During the 19th century many St. Patrick’s Day Parades were held in New Haven, assembling at the South Gate of the New Haven Green and stepping off between noon and 2 o’clock. The Green is the center of the city, comprised of the original nine squares of colonial New Haven and bounded on one side by Yale University. For many years the weather did not cooperate: there was snow on the ground, or it was snowing, or a cold bitter rain was coming down causing the streets to turn into mud and slush. However, this never dampened the spirits or festivities of the parade goers.
As the Irish population grew in New Haven various Irish organizations were formed: the Sons of Irishmen; Friendly Sons of St. Patrick; the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the oldest catholic lay organization in America; the Irish American Social Club; and the Knights of St. Patrick; (established on March 17, 1878, the Knights have held an annual banquet on St. Patrick’s Day since its inception). These organizations became known as the Associated Irish Societies, and over the years it has been their responsibility to organize and fund the parade along with two “newer” organizations the
New Haven Gaelic Football & Hurling Club and IACC in East Haven and the West Haven Irish American Club.
The Irish organizations, church groups, marching bands, and policemen on horseback made up the early parades. Many parade goers and marchers had green ribbons in their buttonholes or a sprig of shamrock in their hatband. Sprigs of shamrocks were shipped from Ireland annually so they would arrive in time for the big day. Residents decorated their houses, and merchants put out flags and banners to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day along the parade route.The Modern Parade
In the fall of 1955 a meeting was held at the Hibernian Hall to discuss the rebirth of a St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New Haven. The Ancient Order of Hibernians would be the sponsor. At that meeting William Gallogly, President of the Statewide Ancient Order of Hibernians, was selected as Chairman, and Frank Reynolds as Vice Chairman, Archbishop O’Brien was informed of the Parade to honor Ireland’s patron saint and was asked for his blessing. Shortly thereafter, a meeting was held at the Guard Hotel in New Haven and John Sheehan, who had chaired many St. Patrick’s Day Parades in New York City, was invited to attend. He provided advice and cautioned that the first parade should emphasize respect and dignity. The rebirth of the parade was to be an annual celebration to be held on the anniversary of the death of St. Patrick and act as an inspiration each St. Patrick’s Day. At the meeting it was decided to have the parade on Saturday March 17, 1956. The day before that 1956 parade, a snowstorm dumped 18 inches of snow on the city streets. Mayor Richard C. Lee, who was honorary Parade Chairman, made sure the streets were plowed so that the parade could go on the next day. In the tradition of their 19th-century predecessors, the parade was held as scheduled. The modern era of parade history had begun.
For several years the parade was held on St. Patrick’s Day or the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day. However, it was found that there was a shortage of bands and marching units available because many units from the area also marched in the New York City parade, which was always held on March 17. It was therefore decided to change New Haven’s parade date to the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day. This was also a popular change with the spectators, as they would not have to take time off from school or work to attend. As many as 175,000 spectators come to the city each year, especially when the weather is nice, to watch our parade. Currently the estimated crowd has grown to 300,000 spectators. Making today’s parades the largest single day spectator event in the state of Connecticut.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade continued to be sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians from 1956 until 1966 when fundraising became too difficult for them to do alone. At that time the Knights of St. Patrick, the New Haven Gaelic Football and Hurling Club, and the West Haven Irish American Club added their sponsorship. Under the title of the Associated Irish Societies Inc., these clubs continue to sponsor the parade. Each Irish club also makes a contribution to the Parade Committee to help with expenses.
In 1969 a city resident tried to halt the parade by obtaining a temporary restraining order. Restraining orders, and an injunction to prohibit future St. Patrick’s Day parades, were also filed. The claim stated that the parade was a religious procession and thus violated the U.S. Constitution. A second petition was filed against the city regarding the appropriation of funds for the parade. According to the decision handed down by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Zampano, “The parade has not been shown to inhibit or advance any religious cause in violation of the establishment clause or free exercise clause of the First Amendment”. He further stated, “It is common knowledge that the parade attracts thousands of spectators of all races, religious and national origins. The atmosphere is festive and no religious ceremonies will be performed as part of the parade. Except for the name, the parade differs very little from other parades, i.e., Columbus Day, Memorial Day, etc., held annually in the city”. According to the local New Haven Register, the Judge’s ruling regarding the appropriation of funds for the parade stated that the funds were granted in accordance with the city charter and by city officials to the Associated Irish Societies. In the 1980s the committee decided to decline this contribution from the city of New Haven and has not applied for city funding for the parade since that time.
The City of New Haven does not sponsor or organize the parade. However, it contributes each year in many other ways and we are grateful for their continued support. Parade permits are signed months in advance and meetings are held with city officials to discuss the parade route and logistics.
The parade committee is comprised of approximately 100 volunteers. Committee volunteers must be a member of at least one of the sponsoring clubs. Our volunteers are diverse and come from many professions. Homemakers, Veterans, Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, Engineers, Police Officers, Firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians, Salespersons, Students and professionals from many trades. As well as our past Grand Marshals who are still very active in the success of the parade. Citizens interested in becoming a Parade Committee member should contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Financial support for our continued success is made possible from individual donations and corporate sponsorships. Events are scheduled throughout the year in the Greater New Haven area. Please check our “Calendar of Events” for a wide variety of activity.
The Associated Irish Societies, Inc. is recognized as a 501 (c)3 charitable organization, donations are tax deductible.
Today, the parade remains the largest spectator event in Connecticut.