Worcester shows its green for St. Patrick

Download the St. Patrick’s Day Parade map!

Maxine Giza

It’s time to break out the green attire, shamrocks and beer in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day — the day everyone is Irish! You don’t have to trek out to Boston or Holyoke to enjoy a fabulous day, as the Worcester County St. Patrick’s Day Parade has now been a tradition in the city for 36 years.

You can get your fix of everything Irish, as Worcester is known for putting on quite the celebration. From parades to races, there is a little something for everyone. “It’s a fun, family day, and it’s just a great atmosphere,” said Mary Ellen Murphy, chairman of the parade committee. “Everyone is happy. It’s a joyful time to be with your kids.”

Headlining this year’s parade festivities will be Grand Marshal Bill Riley. Riley manages the St. John’s Food for the Poor Program at St John’s Catholic Church in Worcester. According to the organization’s website, volunteers serve as many as 700 meals a day. Other program offerings include a free medical clinic and job matching. In order to be bestowed with the honor of being named Grand Marshal, candidates must be of Irish descent and perform good deeds for the community. A committee consisting of past Grand Marshals and parade organizers cast ballots. Nominees and past winners have come from a variety of backgrounds over the years.

“Mr. Riley is kind of your average Joe. He’s just out there helping anyone who needs help,” said Murphy. “Anybody and everybody he helps.”

Floats will begin rolling down Park Avenue at noon and make their way to Elm Park, leaving plenty of spots available along the parade route to catch the action. There are numerous restaurants dotting the streets, making for several opportunities to find the perfect place to gather with friends and loved ones for lunch or a drink (or two!). The route is approximately three miles, and it takes about an hour and a half for the floats to make their way through. Dan O’Neill, of The Press Box, earned the title of Parade Mayor this year and will kick things off with the blow of a whistle. You may be wondering how the Parade Mayor is chosen; in a fundraising contest, local businesses and individuals donate money to the parade, and whoever raises the most money is named Parade Mayor.

Another tradition that will continue is the honoring of several other community members. This year, those being recognized are Mayor Joseph Petty (Cathy Donahue Good Neighbor Award), William White (Agnes Sheehan Community Award), John Hinson (Judy Wilkinson Award) and Theresa Trainor (Virginia Boulay Award).

At the end of the parade, revelers should be on the lookout for the Emerald Club beer tent. The Emerald Club is an organization that helps mentally challenged adults and children. The fundraising helps the group provide services to those in need.

Groups ranging from Celtic bands and high school students to The Worcester Fire and Police departments participate in the parade. Of course, the parade wouldn’t be complete without honoring our veterans, as well. “Any veteran is welcome in the parade,” said Murphy. “They need to be recognized for their sacrifice.”

In addition to Murphy, about 20 people make up the parade committee, which raises approximately $60,000 every year to put on the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Not only do the group’s efforts result in memorable events, but it also helps local schools. “We pay all the bands in the parade,” said Murphy. “That helps the high school kids support their music. The school systems themselves don’t have money to support that like they used to.”

While the St. Patrick’s Day Parade obviously has its roots in Irish heritage, the celebration has become very inclusive over the years and Spanish, Italian and Vietnamese groups have also become fixtures in the festivities. “The Shriners come from Springfield and put on quite the performance with their cars and tractors and motorcycles,” said Murphy. “We had Chinese dragons last year from the Vietnamese community, and it was great.”

St. Patrick’s Festivities:

Pulse Magazine will host a pre-parade pub crawl along Shrewsbury Street from 2-5:30 p.m. March 10. Tickets are $20. Visit stpatrickspubcrawl.org for tickets.

The St. Patrick’s Day festivities expand beyond the parade. In an event similar to the well-known event in Boston, the Political Breakfast Roast will be held March 10 from 9-11 a.m. at the Worcester Hibernian Cultural Center. It’s a morning full of political jabs and entertainment. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by contacting Mary Ellen Murphy at chairman@stpatsparade.com or Jim Browne at jimbrownejr@gmail.com.

The weekend isn’t just for getting your beer fix. Those looking for a healthier option, or at least a way to burn off calories from an indulgent weekend, should consider partaking in the annual 5K road race. The Guinness Celtic 5K starts at 11 a.m. March 11 at the intersection of Elm Park and Highland streets. You can register online at celtic5k.com.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade runs along Park Avenue beginning Sunday, March 11, at noon. For more information, visit stpatsparade.com.

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