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100 Things: Go to THE St. Patrick’s Day Parade

“And dance like a wave of the sea.”

When you see those words on a float rolling down Delaware Avenue, they can mean only one thing: Spring is here, whether it is or not.

The tiny moppets dancing and shivering in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade defy, in their own little way, whatever nature has chosen to hand us. So do the tens of thousands of folks who line the sidewalks. And the quote on one of the many floats of dancers – it comes from William Butler Yeats’ beautiful poem “The Fiddler of Dooney” – speaks eloquently of strength and merriment, no matter what the weather.

Buffalo drinks to spring with two St. Patrick’s Day parades. The bigger affair, which proceeds down Delaware Avenue and takes place this year on March 20, is said to trace its roots back to 1811 and is one of the most famous St. Patrick’s Day parades in the nation. The other one, which takes place the day before, is the “Old Neighborhood Parade” in the Old First Ward and follows what historians say is the original route. Sure, and both parades are on our list of 100 Things every Western New Yorker should do at least once. No fools we. But one at a time, and for now, we focus on Delaware.

Hearts beat high as the Gordon Highlanders, an outfit founded in 1837, get into formation at 2 p.m. at Niagara Square. Bagpipes blaring, they march forward with dignity, halting for inspection by the judges’ station. The Highlanders are traditionally the leaders of the parade. And tradition looms large.

The more things change, the more this parade stays the same. Revel in it.

Wave to the courtly gentlemen of the Blackthorn Club and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. They will wave back. Marvel at the spiffy marching bands of South Park, Grover Cleveland and Hutch Tech high schools. How do these kids polish their act like that?

Observe the little Irish dancers’ expensive big wigs. And observe the bigwigs themselves – politicians following in the footsteps of fabled Irishmen like Jimmy Griffin. Unions, too, strut their stuff. The Ironworkers Local 6, astride their high beam, raise beery questions: Who decides who gets to sit on top of the beam? Where do they store this thing the rest of the year?

South Buffalo parishes, historically Irish, get pride of place near the front of the parade. I always watch for Holy Family, where I am proud to say I was baptized, making me honorary Irish. Suburban parishes bring up the rear an hour and a half later, along with the bucket trucks and utility vehicles. Ha, ha!

The keen Irish sense of humor shows in the little things – the green dogs, the green beer, the floppy green hats and, of course, the leprechauns. With luck you will spot the Potty Wagon, a toilet on wheels, its driver doing wheelies.

And of course there’s St. Patrick, smiling benignly over the spectacle. Let us pause for an old Irish toast:

Saint Patrick was a gentleman,

Who through strategy and stealth,

Drove all the snakes from Ireland,

Here’s a toasting to his health.

But not too many toastings

Lest you lose yourself and then

Forget the good Saint Patrick

And see all those snakes again.

Not by Yeats, perhaps, but vivid all the same. Keeping those words ever in mind, have a good, old-fashioned parade day. Start it out with church, as the good saint intended. Follow that with an Irish breakfast. After the parade, find some fine Irish music.

And dance like a wave of the sea.


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