The modest beige of The Gateway’s Rio Grande Street became veritable riverbanks to a flowing stream of green-clad revelers as Salt Lake City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade got under way Saturday morning.
The annual parade showcasing Utah’s Irish heritage, which celebrates its 35th year today, claims its roots in the first Irish immigrants brought to the state by Park City’s mining boom and even Irish-American soldiers stationed at Fort Douglas as early as 1862.
John Welsh, chairman of the Hibernian Society of Utah and emcee of Saturday’s parade, said he recalls all 34 previous parades and even the days before Salt Lake City’s Irish-American community began hosting the annual celebration.
“You couldn’t even find a green tie to wear in those times,” Welsh said. “Now it’s all about touching the Irish soul within us all, whether you’re Irish or not. Just the word ‘Irish’ conjures up a wealth of ideas in people’s minds. For me, it’s about seeing all the smiles on people’s faces.”
Saturday’s parade attracted Utahns of every descent, with 127 parade entries assembling to celebrate the spirit, tenacity, and “luck of the Irish,” which has served as inspiration to the immigrant spirit of Utah and the nation.
Contingents from Utah’s parochial schools, public schools, churches, dance and bagpipe companies, along with local workers’ unions, snaked through The Gateway in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.
“I grew up in the Chicago suburbs where almost everyone is Irish-Catholic, and the celebrations last almost a week, so I would never miss this,” said Alec Billing, a ski-resort restaurant manager and landscaper who said he’s attended every Salt Lake City St. Patrick’s Day parade since moving to Utah in 1999. Billing and his wife brought 5-year-old son Elijah, bedecked in a green sweat jacket, green-colored hair and a red kilt.
“I’m not Catholic, and my roots are Scots-Irish and English, but for me it’s not about religion or ethnicity,” Billing said. “It’s a community celebration. It brings diversity together.”
This year’s parade theme— “Shamrocks, Shillelaghs, Shenanigans”—inspired all manner of parade displays built on a comical foundation, whether satirical, dry-humored, sarcastic or even grinningly morbid.
T-shirt slogans such as “You Shamrock My World” abounded, along with parade signs announcing “Mom, Dad, I’m Gaelic!” and “God Hates Flags.”
The Starks Funeral Parlor of Salt Lake City sported a motorized coffin, replete with green flames and two accompanying hearses bedecked in gold and green, which wowed many in the crowd. The Sugar House Drill Team’s “Right to Bear Arms” display, featuring marchers in bear suits clutching plastic toy cap guns, also proved a hit.
“The Irish history and love of satire runs deep,” said Virginia Dryer, a Salt Lake City mother of two donning a bear mask as part of the team. “Just ask Jonathan Swift.”
Tom Foulger, parade marshal for the Hibernian Society of Utah, estimated that this year’s parade drew more observers than the previous years, due in part to warmer weather.
“The society is a very inclusive group, and this is a very inclusive parade,” Foulger said. “We don’t limit or exclude anyone. All points of view are at least tolerated, if not welcome.”
The two-hour event got under way at 10 a.m. Saturday, ending at the south end of The Gateway shopping center. Parade attendees afterward thronged toward the The Hibernian Society of Utah’s Siamsa (pronounced “SHAM-shu”) at the Grand Hall at Gateway (former Union Pacific depot). Hundreds of parade participants and observers tucked into corned beef and cabbage with steaming “Irish caviar” potatoes, along with a bottle of Guinness stout or two. But not before parade emcee Welsh gave the parade its parting word, a polite nod to the spirit of the celebration’s namesake.
“Tomorrow there will be a mass in honor of St. Patrick at St. Joseph the Worker,” he told the parting crowd through a microphone. “It would be nice to see you there.”
Best of parade
Best School Band • Granite High School
Best Parish • St. Patrick’s Catholic Church
Best Irish Dance, certified • Scariff Hardiman School of Irish Dance
Best Irish Dance, non-certified • An Dragan Ceilteach Irish Dancers
Best Dogs/Pets • Basset Hounds
Best Family • Quigley Family
Best Misc. Entry • Red Rock Brewery
Best Novelty Team • Sugar House Drill Team
Best Preschool • Community Cooperative Nursery School of Salt Lake City
Best Non-Parochial School • Children’s Academy Preschool
Best Parochial School • St. Vincent De Paul Catholic School
Best Commercial Entry • Wasatch Brewery