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Saint Patrick's Day | © Bryan Maleszyk / Flickr
Saint Patrick's Day | © Bryan Maleszyk / Flickr
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A Brief History of St. Patrick's Day in Boston

Picture of Ashley Kane
Freelance Writer
Updated: 10 March 2017
Saint Patrick may have been the patron saint of Ireland, but the festivities there on the day of his death differ greatly from those around the globe. On March 17th (the day of Saint Patrick’s death), Irish Americans celebrate their heritage with parades, day drinking, pub crawls, and a large amount of green apparel. Historically in Ireland, pubs closed down, and everyone went to church on this day. Once the Irish immigrated to America, St. Patrick’s Day gained more meaning for those proud of their Irish heritage, and traditions were completely reinvented. Since then, Ireland has expanded their own celebrations because of the hoards of tourists that flock to the country for the holiday. Boston is one American city known for its extensive festivities on St. Patrick’s Day, including the oldest Saint Patrick’s Day parade in the United States. Here’s how it all began.
Boy reaches for beads
Boy reaches for beads | © Bryan Maleszyk

How it all started

In 1724, the Charitable Irish Society in Boston held the first Saint Patrick’s Day parade. The group was mostly Protestant immigrants, and they held the parade to honor their home country, in the hopes of creating a gathering and community in Boston. Later, in 1762, Irish soldiers paraded through New York City.

On Evacuation Day, in 1776, Saint Patrick gained more meaning to those of Irish heritage living on American soil. On March 17th, British troops in Boston evacuated the city all at once due to a violent storm. Furthermore, they left peacefully, without any need for cannons or casualties. George Washington called the event an “Interposition by Providence,” and while it was a coincidence, Saint Patrick gained more credibility.

In 1901, Evacuation Day was declared a holiday in the City of Boston. Because of this, the city began hosting a parade in South Boston, which has grown to become the vibrant celebration it is today.

The parade today

Today, the Southie parade is a celebration of Irish-American culture and Evacuation Day. While the City of Boston hosted the event until 1947, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council took over and still hosts the event today.

There are plenty of parade floats and bands marching, and the South Boston streets fill up with spectators and families for the festival. While groups can march in the parade by filling out an application, there is currently controversy surrounding the OutVets, the LGBT veterans group that has been banned from participating in the event. While they’ve marched the last two years, this year, the South Boston Allied War Veterans have denied their application because of their rainbow logo, stating that they do not want any representations of sexuality.

As of now, Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh have decided to boycott the parade, and it’s likely that many other Bostonians will as well. “We are one Boston. We are so beyond this conversation,” said Walsh.

The South Boston Allied War Veterans are set to vote again on Friday for a final decision.

Boston has historically celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day inclusively, and everyone celebrates at bars and around the city after the parade. Hopefully, this year will be another successful holiday for all.

Saint Patrick’s Day
Saint Patrick’s Day | © Bryan Maleszyk / Flickr