The idea of floating on the Savannah River in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day may seem like an off-the-wall concept, but when you consider that the Savannah Irish came over from County Wexford on boats, the event becomes a whole lot more meaningful.
“When you tie it back to the history, it’s probably the most historical way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day here in Savannah,” said Tara Reese, Savannah Irish Festival 2021 president.
“Let’s have a parade!” said David Moses, founder of Savannah’s Shamrock Ships Flotilla.
This year, Savannahians can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the inaugural Shamrock Ships Flotilla and complimentary Shamrocks Ships Soiree.
The Flotilla will be a procession on the Savannah River of an expected 40 vessels from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. all decorated in green for St. Patrick’s Day. The soiree will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. plenty of space, a family-friendly atmosphere, live music, festive drinks, traditional Irish foods from premiere food trucks, and socially distanced product experiences.
"When you tie it back to the history, it’s probably the most historical way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day here in Savannah.” —Tara Reese, Savannah Irish Festival 2021 president.
“Through this alternative option, we want to get people outside, enjoying the sunshine and bringing the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day to life in the safest way possible,” Moses said.
The parade route will only pass Hutchinson Island, where organizers know they can provide a safe experience for all attendees. That is a result of the City of Savannah requesting that the boats not go by River Street, Moses said, noting the Shamrock Ships “would be there in a second.”
“We want to do our best to be good stewards of the health of our residents and visitors during this special celebration,” Moses said.
The event is intended to be rain or shine, and guests and participants are encouraged to dress accordingly.
“I think [the Irish community] is excited that Savannah is doing something that allows people to still celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, because that is what Savannah is known for, is St. Patrick’s Day,” Reese said.
The Shamrock Ships Flotilla and Soiree is partnering with the Savannah Irish Festival, SavannahCams.com and partner sponsors and charitable beneficiaries to present these two complimentary experiences.
Attendees will have the option to settle in general admission seating or reserve seating in advance.
Organizers are offering soiree attendees the option to select reserve seats from various sections, each coordinating to an organization that will receive the attendees proceeds.
Organizers are also offering attendees of the Shamrocks Ships Soiree the choice to sit in different sections of reserved seating that donate a portion of the ticket price to various charities, based on the purchaser’s choice. The charities include Undefeated Warrior, the Anthony M. Lanier, II Foundation; Hopeful Horizons and the Green Briar Children’s’ Center.
The event will be socially distanced, masks will be required and health and safety is mind.
“This is a limited, very limited capacity event,” Moses said. “In everything that we are doing, we are keeping safety and wellness and health protocols top of mind. It is a challenging time to be alive and to present events. But, we believe that the 70,000 square feet of lawn space at the convention center will allow us to spread out sufficiently and of course, the best thing you can do is be on a boat with friends and family outside enjoying the outdoors.”
Moses said there are four ways to experience these events: to register a privately-owned boat in the Flotilla, charter a vessel with a Coast-Guard rated captain to participate in the Flotilla, attend the Shamrock Ships Soiree, or view the Flotilla live at SavannahCams.com.
“The Savannah Convention Center believes that we can bring live events back to life safely,” Moses said.
Additionally, attendees and viewers can vote for their favorite boat in the Flotilla. The captain with the most votes for their boat takes home 50% of that pot while the other 50% is donated to Green Briar Children’s Center.
“This year, we start small; next year, we grow. Our goal is to expand as the atmosphere of the world embraces the idea that we can go back to living.” - David Moses, Shamrock Ships Flotilla founder.
“It’s designed to allow the captains an opportunity to raise money for a wonderful organization, helping our most vulnerable, certainly in these very difficult times,” Moses said. “It’s a noble cause.”
Reese said that around the United States, 90% of events have been cancelled. She had the opportunity to speak to the Irish Ambassador to the United States, Daniel Mulhall, about this event in a breakout room over Zoom and was congratulated on the conception of this event.
“They were very excited that we were thinking outside of the box and we’re doing something as opposed to just letting a second year go by without any kind of celebration,” Reese said.
Moses also represents the Savannah Harbor Foundation of Savannah. He said for the last seven years the foundation has been putting on the Boat Parade of Lights, and welcomed 30 vessels last November to that parade.
“I thought to myself, ‘I wonder if I could translate the success of that event and produce a boat parade for St. Patrick’s Day.’”
Moses said it wasn’t easy, and he ran into a lot of pushback when he first presented the idea, but he was determined to come up with something safe that would bring the community together to honor this holiday. Moses began asking boat captains to participate and found that they were incredibly supportive of the idea.
“To produce something truly amazing, you need a tremendous amount of perseverance and the ability to be creative,” he said. “Knowing that the St. Patrick’s Day street parade was going to be cancelled, I believed that someone or a group of organizations needed to come in and think outside the box.”
The steering committee for the event included Savannah Riverboat Cruises, Rising Tide Experiences, the Savannah Irish Festival, the Savannah Convention Center, Outside Savannah, Savannah Cams and Bernays, Inc.
“Those that are helping to put it together this year will certainly remember how they helped found the first inaugural Shamrock Ships,” Moses said. “And, one day, 196 years from now, when we’re still doing it, we can look back fondly on how it was put together that first time.”
The Flotilla in 2022 will be planned for March 18 to avoid taking away from the 198-year old street parade, Moses said.
“This year, we start small; next year, we grow,” Moses said. “Our goal is to expand as the atmosphere of the world embraces the idea that we can go back to living.”