St. Patrick’s Parade, longest-running event in Atlanta, returns this weekend
By Hannah E. Jones
This Saturday, be sure to don your “greenest” outfit for the annual Atlanta St. Patrick’s Parade. Regarded as the longest-running event in the city, the Parade is marching into its 139th year.
The 2023 parade will be the largest iteration in recent history, with 81 floats, 15 Irish groups, 12 bands and four dance groups — all with a total of about 2,341 parade participants. With an anticipated 20,000 attendees, the parade will follow a one-mile route through Midtown’s Peachtree Street.
Before the parade, there’s also a 5K race, and registration is open until Thursday, March 9. Additionally, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation will host its “Brave the Shave,” a head-shaving challenge to raise funds for childhood cancer research.
In addition to the festivities will be something unique this year — a film crew. Production is underway for “Megalopolis” at Trilith Studios in Fayetteville, and the movie includes a parade scene. To capture an authentic city parade, the production crew will join the celebration. The film is directed by Francis Ford Coppola and features big-name Hollywood actors like Aubrey Plaza and Adam Driver.
The event will also highlight leaders within the local Irish-American community. Atlanta resident Dave Fitzgerald, and former chairman of the Parade, was chosen as the 2023 Person of the Year. Fitzgerald is a second-generation Irish American, who has visited Ireland over 40 times. He’s played an active role in the community, helping run the Order of the Green Jacket of Ireland — an effort to raise funds for Irish athletes in the ‘96 Olympics — and participated in the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum.
“To be honored by the Irish is certainly a tribute to my heritage and, to be honored by people you love, is even more honorable,” Fitzgerald said.
Additionally, Georgia Tech football kicker David Shanahan was selected to be the 2023 Grand Marshall. He was the first Irish citizen to be awarded a full scholarship to play college football in America. A host of Irish and local dignitaries also plan to join the fun, including Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, Irish Consul General Caoimhe Ní Chonchúir and Darragh O’Brien, Ireland’s Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
“Having a minister over for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is like having Santa Claus over for Christmas,” Fitzgerald quipped.
The legacy of the Atlanta St. Patrick’s Parade spans nearly a century-and-a-half. The first was held in 1858 by the Hibernian Benevolent Society. While St. Patrick is a patron saint of Ireland and the day was seen as a holy day, many of the traditions originated in the U.S. The day became increasingly popular after many Irish citizens immigrated to America due to the Irish Potato Famine.
The parade became further cemented into Atlanta’s culture following the Civil War, as a way to honor Father Thomas O’Reilly and the Hibernian Rifles’ efforts in protecting the city. When Union General William Sherman arrived in Atlanta with intentions to torch it, O’Reilly negotiated with him — ultimately convincing Sherman to spare the city hall, courthouse, five churches and about 400 homes.
Only a few years have been skipped, including during the World Wars and the COVID-19 pandemic. The event is organized by the Irish Network Atlanta and sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company, CRH and Star 94.
“The Irish are lucky to have this one day year, which celebrates the Irish uniquely,” Fitzgerald said. “No other nationality has quite as strong a day as St. Patrick’s Day, so it’ll be a day full of celebration, fun and good cheer.”
The parade will kick off this Saturday at noon at the intersection of Peachtree Street and 15th Street. Click here for additional information about the day-long event.
Click here to check out Kelly Jordan’s slideshow of the 2019 parade.
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