The first recorded Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City took place fourteen years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On March 17,1762 a small group of Irish New Yorkers marched to the inn of one John Marshall at Mount Pleasant, near the College (near the present-day intersection of Barclay and Church streets in lower Manhattan) where the day would be celebrated. Little else is known about that early parade, and in years earlier still there may have been similar marches and gatherings that have escaped record, but whatever else those solemn revelers accomplished on that late winter’s day close on two and a half centuries ago, they began, or can be credited with beginning, here in New York, an annual celebration which has continued without interruption ever since.
It is only appropriate, given the uncertain record of the life and times of St. Patrick himself, that the early instances of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are somewhat lost in the mists of unrecorded history. No actual manuscript of any find written in Ireland in that century now survives. There is virtually not a single Irish artifact in a museum or a single monument in the field of which an archeologist could say with full confidence that it was made in the fifth century.
And yet Patrick’s writings, as we know them from later copies, survive today and continue to instruct and delight; his great work of conversion survives, immeasurably woven into the fabric of Irish life and culture and, consequently, into the cultures of all those many nations to which the Irish have emigrated over the centuries.
Pre-revolutionary Manhattan may not be as distant and unrecoverable as fifth century Ireland, but it is far enough away, and the records of the life lived by those Irish who were here already at that time are sketchy at best, are more often blank. Those early New York marchers were not only beginning the tradition we continue today, they were themselves carrying on a much older tradition, one which they had brought with them, as perhaps their sole precious possession, to this country and this city.
From the seventh century onward, Patrick was regarded as pre-eminent among Ireland’s early saints. His feast day, as a kind of national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. In later times he become more and more widely known as the patron of Ireland. The crowds who march up Fifth Avenue in New York on March 17* each year may not know a great deal about him, but in honoring his memory they follow a very ancient tradition.
So let it be said, with all Irish humility, that not only does New York’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade predate the independence of the United States, it can even be traced, by extension, back nearly as far as St. Brendan the Navigator’s discovery of the American New World.
St. Patrick’s Day is a uniquely Irish holiday, and yet it is celebrated in more countries around the world than any other national holiday. There are St. Patrick’s celebrations in Dublin, Tokyo, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur, New Orleans, Savannah, Toronto, Auckland, Chicago and Montreal, to name a few/and the day must be a pleasure in all of those places, for those unlucky enough not to be in New York City. This geographical spread is less surprising when one considers the prolific dispersion undertaken by the Irish, through choice or necessity, over the past three centuries. There is no corner of the globe the Irish have left unvisited, and there is none where they have settled that has been more deeply shaped by them than has New York.
The groundwork for the inaugural parade in Hunterdon county was laid in the summer of 2012. Wishing to fill a void locally for the St. Patrick celebration, the Friendly Sons scouted several sites in the county before settling on downtown Clinton. The historic nature of Clinton and its’ many scenic landmarks made it an ideal choice. Permits were awarded and the planning began in late 2012 for a March 2014 parade.
This first parade featured several pipe bands, dancing schools and over 2000 spectators. The 2015 parade will grow on the solid foundation of our first effort! We look forward to seeing everybody on Sunday March 15 at 3pm.