Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade | Behind the Scenes

The observance of St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah first started in 1824 with the first documented invitation to the general public regarding the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah.

Today, almost 300 units—including marching bands, families, military units, Irish societies, students, dancers, public servants, and commercial floats—weave their way through the streets of Historic Downtown Savannah.

Of course, something of this magnitude doesn’t happen automatically. It takes hours and hours of planning, meetings, and organizing throughout the year by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. Their year of work culminates in the election of the Grand Marshal to represent the city, the committee, and the Irish community leading into all of the events surrounding the parade.

We bent the ear of Caleb Harkleroad, Parade Committee member, who has been greatly involved throughout the entire planning process.

Are you getting excited about St. Patrick’s Day and the parade?

Well, you know, St. Patrick’s Day is so much more than just a parade. There are so many events that happen that are special to a lot of families. Just being able to be together and celebrate is just a huge, huge deal. Especially after all we’ve been through.

Tell us about the ring that Harkleroad Diamonds and Fine Jewelry makes for the Grand Marshal every year.

There is a private reception for the marshals on the day of the election of the grand marshal which is always the last Sunday in February. We made the first one [ring] in 2019, but didn’t make one in 2021 because there was no Marshal. The one this year is the third one we’ve made.

Do you make the ring in-house?

No, but we design it in-house. On the front and center of the ring, there’s a Celtic cross, which is kind of the focus of the day. The ring has three emeralds on either side and each corner. On one side, it says what number parade it is, so this year will be the 198th celebration.

What made you decide to create a ring for the grand marshal?

Our business is local and we appreciate the support of the parade committee along with friends and classmates of my dad’s. So, we wanted to do something different and special for the grand marshals to really set them apart and honor them for their accomplishments. 

Tell us what your role is on the Parade Committee and some of the things you’ve helped organize.

I’m in charge of the bands this year. Navy Week this year is coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day, so we’ll have a large contingency of the Navy Band in town and in the parade. It’ll probably be a 30–40-piece band. Also, folks might not know that the Navy’s senior executive host is Rear Admiral Susan Bryer Joyner who is a native of Savannah and a graduate of Jenkins High School. She’ll be in the parade with the Jenkins marching band escorting her car during the parade.

Are there any special dignitaries or guests this year?

We will be getting a visit from Helen McEntee, the Irish minister for justice. This is one of the larger visits we’ve had from an Irish politician. There’s a small parade on March 16 from Johnson Square to Madison Square and she’ll [Helen McEntee] be in that procession. The minister will probably make some remarks at the ceremony. There will also be a large contingent from An Garda Siochana, which is the National Police Service for The Republic of Ireland. The Irish Prison Service will also be here. The Wexford and Limerick County Councils will both be sending some representatives. So, we’ll have a fair amount of folks from Ireland here in the parade.

Who is coming the farthest that you know of?

A lot of bands were tough to get this year because there were so many school bands applying and they [the committee] had to deal with districts and COVID and regulations, etc. We’re not going to have as many bands as we normally have, but we have a lot of pipe bands coming. The US Border Patrol pipe band is coming, so that should be great.

What is one of your favorite activities/ceremonies/traditions?

I think my favorite event has become the Celtic Cross Ceremony which is a massive ceremony the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day. It starts everything with Mass. Then, all the societies and families progress together, walking from the cathedral to the Celtic Cross monument at Emmet Park on Bay Street. Then, we have a speaker, a ceremony, and a reception. It’s very reminiscent of what the parade would have been like a long time ago when it first got started in 1824. As I said, it’s the Irish community’s day to be together, enjoy the events, and get ready for the coming week. It’s become a really special event for me.

Is there anything you can share about how the Parade Committee has worked together?

Our General Chairman, John Fogarty, has been hyper-focused on our goal and our mission which is to put on a celebration fitting to honor St. Patrick himself. The original event was a small parade consisting of 14-15 guys and they were Irish Protestants. A lot of people may not know how it has become an Irish Catholic Parade.

- Alex Arango contributed to this article

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