Boston's is the oldest.
New York City's is the largest.
Chicago's is the windiest.
Ah, but Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the grandest “hometown” event in the country.
“I can guarantee you those other cities don’t have a float like Keller’s Flea Market,” says Michael Foran, general chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day committee. “And they don’t have 20 different Shrine groups. You know what I’m saying?”
With somewhere in the vicinity of 15,000 marchers, and spectators in the 750,000 range, Savannah’s all–Irish street–a–thon (it’s the 188th this year) is officially the second–largest in the country (the NYC parade claims up to 250,000 marchers, and two million spectators).
Every branch of the United States military will be represented by a marching band, Foran points out. In fact, one–third of the Savannah marchers will be military personnel.
In New York, he says, there are salaried people on the St. Patrick’s board whose job it is to go out and “sell” parade spots to commercial interests. That’s why the Big Apple is more likely to have an IBM float than one from the local bovine–themed flea market.
The Savannah group is all volunteer. There are no “mad men” on Foran’s team.
Anyway, does size really matter? “New York is the largest parade, and the way that is measured is purely by capita,” says Foran. “So our 725,000 can’t compete with New York’s how many million.
“I ain’t never been there, don’t want to go, and I don’t really know how they say they’re larger unless it’s because they’re such a large city.”
Numerous New York pipe bands, of course, feature prominently in the Savannah parade. Foran, who’s been involved with the St. Patrick’s committee since 1976, has made quite a few friends from the ranks of the marching musicians.
“They tell me that New York sells their rights to a television station, and they broadcast just the first hour of that parade,” Foran says. “After that, they shut it off, and the crowds disperse. And so these guys are just marching down the street with nobody watching them.
“And they say that what they do up there is line up all the policemen and fireman, and that’ll take up the whole parade!”
New York bands, he adds, think of the Savannah parade as a highlight of the green season. “They’re just amazed at how the city and the police force does such a fine job of managing all these people,” Foran boasts.
Before a parade, the committee has to give the police department a “unit” count – that is, the number of groups or organizations officially signed up to march along the route. This year, there are 400 units, although, Foran explains, “a unit can be 10 people, or 1,000 people.”
Foran, a retired river pilot, manages a mob of his own at home. “I’ve got seven children to chase around,” he laughs, “but I can give a lot of time to this organization.”