St. Patrick’s Day is more than a salute to all things Irish. ¶ For some, it is an opportunity to consume green-dyed food and drink. ¶ It is a sign that spring is on its way. ¶ But for many others, the St. Patrick’s Day holiday is a time to honor tradition and heritage. ¶ “It’s about faith, family and fun at the end,” said Pam Murray, an Orchard Park resident whose birthday falls on St. Patrick’s Day. ¶ Murray was among thousands of spectators and more than 100 marching units on hand Saturday for the 20th annual “Old Neighborhood” St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which got under way at noon at the Valley Community Center on Leddy Street and continued through the historic Buffalo River community along South Park Avenue and onto Smith, Elk and Hamburg streets and O’Connell Avenue. ¶ The event was among several St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that started Friday with the Buffalo Irish Center’s 41st annual Civic Luncheon with 600 attendees and the inaugural “Live at O’Larkin” concert at Larkin Square. ¶ Today, downtown Buffalo’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade gets under way in Niagara Square at 2 p.m. and continues along Delaware Avenue to North Street.
Family and friends were front and center for many participating in Saturday’s Old Neighborhood march.
“It’s about families getting together and generations of families getting together. It’s about involving the kids,” said Cathy Fitzgerald, a Southtowns resident whose mother grew up in the Old First Ward.
Fitzgerald’s 21-year-old daughter, Kellan, accompanied her mother to Saturday’s parade.
“I love being Irish,” said Kellan, who is the image of Irish.
“I have red hair and freckles,” she said. “It’s something I can’t deny.”
Cathy Fitzgerald’s grandparents, who moved to Buffalo from Ireland, worked hard and partied hard, she said.
Celebrating the holiday with fun, laughs and sometimes a few drinks was fine with many of the spectators. But the religious relevance of the holiday sometimes gets lost amid the revelry, Murray said.
“St. Patrick was a good saint. People lose sight of the fact he brought Christianity to Ireland,” she said.
Heather Uplinger, the granddaughter of Irish immigrants who has lived here her entire life, said the revelry of the holiday is one reason she never attended a St. Patrick’s Day parade – that is, until Saturday. Howard, her English bull terrier, came with her.
“This is my first parade experience because of the fact of all the people drinking and dressing up. My family is orange Irish. That’s why Howard has an orange leash,” Uplinger said, employing a term often used to describe Protestant Irish.
“I don’t think St. Patrick cared if we wore green or orange,” she said.
For Terrence Shaunnesey, the Old Neighborhood parade means warm weather is not far off.
“Last year it was great. It was like 80 degrees outside. When St. Patrick’s Day comes around, you just know warmer days, spring, is on the way,” he said.
The temperature for St. Patrick’s Day weekend – March 17 and 18 – last year was 73 degrees on Saturday and 75 degrees, Sunday, according to meteorologist Jon Hitchcock of the National Weather Service. The temperature tipped out at just 29 degrees for this year’s Old Neighborhood march.
Ann Hinman McMahon, 79, was the grand marshal for this year’s Old Neighborhood march. She is a former member of the Valley Community Association board of directors and the head of the senior citizens program at the community center.
St. Patrick’s Day parades have a long history in Buffalo. According to front-page stories published in The Buffalo Evening News in the early 1900s, the Irish in Buffalo celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with dinners and speeches in 1912, 1913 and 1914, but no parade. There was a parade in 1915, with grand marshal Edward J. Duggan leading the way.
In 1916, thousands turned out for the parade. William H. Fitzpatrick was grand marshal in 1916 and in 1917.
In 1916 the parade route took marchers from Niagara Street to Franklin Street, passing reviewing stands at city and county halls, then proceeding to the Terrace, to Main and then to Tupper Street. In 1917, marchers assembled in Niagara Square before following the same route.
There was no parade during World War II, from 1942 to 1945 but the march resumed in 1946 with a route from Memorial Auditorium to Main and Virginia streets. In 1981, the parade was moved to Delaware Avenue.
Peg Overdorf, executive director of the community center, said she was talking with some friends in Leahy’s Tavern on O’Connell Avenue in 1994 when someone suggested that a second parade be held in the “Old Neighborhood.” The first Old Neighborhood Parade, held on March 17, 1994, drew about 25 units.
News Staff Reporter Anne Neville contributed to this report