On a blustery March day in 1970, Joseph B. McGlynn, Jr., the founder of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in St. Louis, Mayor Alphonso Cervantes, Patrick Walsh, Irish Consul General of Chicago; and an intrepid band of marchers and floats depicting Irish heritage slogged through green-tinted snow on Olive Street downtown in the first St. Patrick’s Day parade of the 20 th century. McGlynn and the Notre Dame Club of St. Louis put on that first parade. Now, 40 years later and in the 21 st century the tradition also known as the Rite of Spring is the centerpiece of the area’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Joe McGlynn, now 75 years young, and St. Louis’ Honorary Irish Consul, is still the driving force behind St. Louis’ most popular and well-attended parade, but now instead of just the Notre Dame Club of St. Louis, he’s aided by a committee of nearly 200 claiming Irish heritage and a marshal corps of over 400 volunteers who actually stage the parade. To that must be added a detail of nearly 120 St. Louis police officers, city officials, official sponsors of the parade, media partners, honorary parade marshals, the Irish government, which provides a representative for every parade; and others.
Over the years a who’s who of Irish elected officials has found their way to St. Louis for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. An honor that no other American city of our size enjoys. The list includes: Prime Minister Jack Lynch, who attended the second parade in 1971; Mary Hanafin, Minister for Social and Family Affairs and member of parliament, who will be this year’s Guest of Honor; Erskine Childers, deputy prime minister and member of parliament; Marie Geoghegan-Quinn, minister of the Department of the Taoiseach and member of parliament; Ben Briscoe, lord mayor of Dublin and member of parliament; John Bruton, leader of the Fine Gael Party; John Hume, leader of SDLP, M.P. and M.E.P. in Northern Ireland, Mark Durkan , Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland; Martin Keaveney, Mayor of Sligo; and many more.
The list of Honorary Parade Marshals includes St. Louisans Denny Long, president and Michael Roarty , executive vice president of Anheuser-Busch; Most Reverend Edward O’Donnell, Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis; Patrick Donelan, president of Investment Counselors; Michael Shanahan, Sr., president of Engineered Systems; Jack Buck, member of the Sportscasters Hall of Fame; Most Reverend Justin Rigali, Archbishop of St. Louis; Patrick Finneran, Jr., vice president and general manager, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems; Charles Drury, Chairman of Drury Development Corporation; and other distinguished St. Louisans.
In 1978 the St. Patrick’s Day Run in St. Louis was added to parade day and precedes the parade on Saturday morning. The five mile run has since become the largest locally organized run in St. Louis . Over 8,000 runners participated in last year Michelob ULTRA St. Patrick’s Day Parade Run.
From the very first run 31 years ago, Anheuser-Busch was there supporting our efforts to stage the run as well as the parade, notes McGlynn. This year, Michelob ULTRA will again sponsor the run.
As the year’s past the parade and its spectator base became too large for Olive Street and later Washington Avenue , and it and the run were moved to Market Street , stepping off at Broadway and marching west. When the weather is good, more than 350,000 spectators line the parade route to watch the elaborate floats, marching bands, marching units, dance groups, animal units, novelty groups, motorized organizations, and large helium-filled cartoon character balloons.
Three year’s ago the committee turned the parade around so that it starts at 18 th and Market and concludes at Broadway and Market where the parade’s Irish Village is located in Kiener Plaza. We’re a little like the Pied Piper, hopefully bringing people into downtown to enjoy the post parade activities, such as the Irish Village and the Party at the Start, adds McGlynn.
In fact, the parade now has parties which bookend the parade route. The Party at the Start hosted by the Dubliner Irish Restaurant and Pub takes place at Aloe Plaza, 18th and Market Streets, and commences at the conclusion of the run prior to the start of the parade. Both feature food and drinks and entertainment.
After 40 years one can safely say that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Run in St. Louis and their attendant parties and activities have become part of the fabric of the community and much anticipated events for those of Irish heritage and those that are Irish for the day or weekend. It’s a rite that will be right for St. Louis for another 40 years.