When thousands of Pittsburghers pack Downtown on Saturday for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in a sea of green, they’ll be part of a tradition 150 years in the making.
Though Pittsburgh’s parade halted for several years, particularly during blizzards, times of war, or when St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Sunday, this year’s parade will mark 150 years since the very first — a milestone worth celebrating, parade organizer Jan Griffith said.
“It’s not 150 consecutive years, but we’ll celebrate anything,” she said.
The parade has grown from humble roots into one of the largest in the nation and, at least according to one website, Pittsburgh is among the best places to celebrate the holiday.
This weekend, between 150,000 to 200,000 people are expected to watch as some 50,000 Pittsburghers march in the parade. The parade begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 16 — here’s the full route. For those who can’t make it, WTAE will livestream the festivities.
Looking back, the city’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade, held on March 17, 1869, didn’t quite go as planned, as deliverymen unloading wagons impeded the procession of St. Patrick, according to the parade’s official history, compiled by Michael R. Murphy.
In 1871, the “Confederated Irishmen of Lawrenceville” marched through the rain wearing sashes reading “God Save Ireland,” per the parade’s website. In 1874, marchers traversed exhausting routes from the North Side to the South Side to Downtown — “they just marched for miles,” Griffith said.
During the 2018 parade, one lucky couple even stopped the show with their mid-parade engagement. Griffith hasn’t heard about any engagements planned for this year — not yet, anyway.
When the parade steps off on Saturday, expect 190 groups to march along the parade route, including marching bands, pipers, drum corps, dancers, Irish wolfhounds, clowns, horse patrols, political officials, and the Rooney family with Steely McBeam.
“It’s one of the largest we’ve had so far,” Griffith said.
The parade committee strives to make sure it’s a family-friendly event, and a family festival will be held in Market Square from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
And just in case some revelers aren’t so PG, police have promised “zero tolerance for disruptive and illegal behavior,” vowing that liquor control enforcement agents will be undercover and DUI patrols will be in operation.
Police cars in Zone Two will be outfitted with decals to trumpet the parade’s landmark year.
A longtime parade organizer with Irish heritage herself, Griffith said it’s “so special (to see) the very large presence of Irish culture in the Pittsburgh area.”
For her, there’s nothing like seeing the parade in person each year, hearing the pipe bands, and feeling the thump of the drums.
So, why should people head Downtown for the parade?
“For one of the best times they’ll have all year,” Griffith said. “You don’t have to be Irish, but you can be Irish for the day. It’s a sense of camaraderie and fun and excitement.”