The History Of The St. Patrick’s Day Parade In Boston

Boston is where the very first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held way back on March 17th, 1737. The parade was an effort to bring together citizens of Boston and the new Irish immigrants that had made their way over from Ireland in hopes of creating a better life. The parade became a celebration of Irish culture and solidarity for the city’s new found residents.

Besides celebrating all things Irish, the parade also marks the celebration of “Evacuation Day.” This is the day when British troops were forced out of Boston on March 17th, 1776. With so much to celebrate on one day, it’s no wonder why Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of the biggest and best. Since 1901 the parade has been held in South Boston where the Irish influence is strongest.

The Early Years

The Irish immigrants back around 1840 kind of started their own parade without any permission from any city officials. After Sunday mass concluded, thousands of Irish-Catholic immigrants would march the streets of Boston. They had massive numbers singing out and loud bands to accompany them during their celebration of the patron Irish Saint. The parade became more organized as the years went by. By the turn of the century the parade was to be held in South Boston with more organization, marching bands, and refreshments along the way.

1901 is thought of as the beginning of the official organized parade as we know it. Major George F.H. Murray was the inaugural Chief Marshall of the parade in 1901. The parade was organized and sponsored by the City of Boston up until 1947 when Mayor James Michael Curley decided that the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council would take over organizing, sponsoring, and planning the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston.

Civil Politics In The Parade

Certain political and civil groups have used the popular parade as a way to get their message heard. During the 1960’s and 70’s politics and activism were exercised via the parade. The N.A.A.C.P.  entered a float in 1964 to raise awareness that the Irish fight for freedom and African-American equality were in fact very similar.

Irish nationalist repeatedly marched in the parade in unofficial ways during the 1960’s and 70’s. The most notable was in 1972 when the Irish Republican Aid Committee wore black armbands as they carried a coffin using the Irish tri colors to protest the trouble in Northern Ireland with a sign reading “England Get Out Of Ireland!”

The parade has been used as a platform for different groups trying to convey their message.

The 1970’s gave us the 200th anniversary of Evacuation Day on March 17th, 1976.  People dressed up to reenact the event with costumes from that time period. Although the 200th anniversary was momentous, the attendance of the parade was far less than normal due to all the turmoil and protest that ensued during these turbulent years.

All Things And People Are Equal

The Irish American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston also known as GLIB applied to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1992. The South Boston Allied War Veterans Council denied them entry into the parade that year. GLIB went ahead and Marched anyway after winning a court order allowing them to march in the parade. In 1994 GLIB won a sexual discrimination suit against the organizers. The Allied War Veterans opposed it so strongly that they canceled the entire parade. In 1995 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Allied War Veterans stating the protection of free speech based on religion.

As time went on, Boston gay activists never stopped with their efforts to be part of the parade. With the help of gay veteran groups Boston Pride and Outvets were eventually allowed to march in the parade in 2015. As a show of support, Mayor Marty Walsh marched in the parade. This was the first time in twenty years a Boston mayor had joined the parade’s procession. This was the mayor’s way of leaving years of controversy and tension behind.

The Parade These Days

Although the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has a bit of political, social, and civil tension tied into its history it is still a beloved celebration that draws thousands of people to South Boston. As the years have gone by, local celebrities, sports figures and politicians have been part of the parade, making it as family friendly as possible. There are family zones and sober areas for those looking for a less rowdy viewing experience. As the parade evolves, organizers are always looking for ways to diversify entertainment in hopes of including as many different walks of life as possible. For many the parade will always be a military celebration first considering the heroics of the Continental troops led by Colonel Henry Knox.