Grab yourself a big green hat and a pint glass, because Friday, March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day.
For New Yorkers of Irish descent — and those who claim to be for the purpose of day drinking — that means getting decked out in green garb and descending on New York City for one of the world's biggest parades marking the holiday.
Each borough has its own St. Patrick’s Parade in the lead-up to the big day, but the main event takes place in Manhattan. It draws about 2 million spectators annually to watch roughly 150,000 participants march. It is sponsored every year by the St. Patrick’s Day Foundation NYC — a local nonprofit organization founded to celebrate Irish American history.
The parade kicks off on Friday at 11 a.m., beginning on Fifth Avenue at 44th Street and then making its way uptown, where it will end on 79th Street at about 4:30 p.m. Spectators can view the parade along Fifth Avenue, but should make sure to arrive early for a good view.
The parade will feature a multitude of various Irish heritage clubs, marching bands, fire department associations, and other Irish American cultural groups.
Marion Casey, director of undergraduate studies at Glucksman Ireland House at NYU, says the parade is a celebration of Irish-American roots.
“It’s always been about community,” she said. “If you march in the parade and you march with a group you’re affiliated with, it’s a reunion. If you march with a county association, you’re marching with your cousins.”
New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is actually older than the U.S.: The first parade of its kind in the city was held in 1762, marking the beginning of a long Irish history in New York City. These early Irish immigrants were initially soldiers serving under the British Army. At the time, Ireland was under British rule. Irish were banned from speaking their native language and even from wearing the color green in their home country, but were allowed to express their Irish pride in New York, which was a British colony at the time.
The parade was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and returned in a limited capacity in 2021. Last year's was considered the full return to form for the event.
Terry Golway, an Irish American historian and adjunct professor at the College of Staten Island, says the Irish identity in America has more or less been synonymous with Catholicism, which potentially ignores a wide swath of Irish culture and has led to ongoing disputes about who can participate in the parade.
“The parade became wrapped up in this dual identity — actually triple identity — of Irish American Catholic,” he said. “That was the reason that the people who organized the parade refused to allow gay groups to march in under their own banner.”
LGBTQ groups were banned from participating in the Manhattan parade until 2015, and are still excluded from marching in Staten Island's parade.
Golway said the holiday celebrations in Ireland are far less stringent — and more fun.
“Dublin, long ago, sort of cast aside this idea that it had anything to do with Catholicism. It's a party, right?” he said. “Most parades in Ireland are much more festive than the parade in New York.”
He encouraged New York’s parades to use that as a model: “Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick's Day. Well, that's a pretty inclusionary message, right? Let's be proud of that. So don't close doors. Open doors.”
After the parade, many spectators will head to any number of Irish pubs throughout the city to continue the celebration. Most famous, perhaps, is McSorley’s Old Ale House on East Seventh Street in the East Village. The bar, which opened in 1854, recently celebrated its 169th anniversary as the city's oldest Irish pub.
For street closures and other parade information see here.