TRADITIONS: The Celtic Cross Ceremony

The St. Patrick’s Day festivities around Savannah officially kicks off with the greening of the fountain in Forsyth Park on March 10. This ritual occurs yearly in the beauty of the park surrounded by families, locals, and visitors alike participating in the long-standing tradition.

Tara Reese, President of the Savannah Irish Festival Committee and a member of the Board of Directors for the Daughters of Ireland, said you never know who you’ll see at such an event.

“I was at the greening [of the fountain] and I looked across and saw friends I haven’t seen since 2019,” Reese said. “These friends are from Dublin, Ireland, and with the Guard of Honor. I knew they were coming into town, but I didn’t think I’d see them until next week. It was heartwarming to see friends I’ve known – lord have mercy – for fifteen years, just standing there smiling at me. It’s so great to have them back in Savannah. It was like having a mini-reunion before the craziness starts later this week.”

One thing Reese looks forward to on St. Patrick’s Day is the special Celtic Cross Ceremony in Emmett Park (Sun., March 12).

“After mass on Sunday, the Irish families and the Irish societies gather outside the Saint John’s Basilica and then we march together to the old fort,” she explained. “This is sort of considered the ‘real’ St. Patrick’s Day parade because it resembled the original 1824 procession from the cathedral to the monument in Emmett Park.”

Once there, the Celtic Cross Ceremony honors the Irish heritage and ancestors with a wreath at the monument and a blessing for the parade from the bishop.

“I think the Savannah Irish are very protective of their Irish history and the origins of the St. Patrick’s Day parade,” Reese shared. “The Hibernian Society, established in 1812, was formed by Presbyterian Merchants as a charity for Irish Catholics. In 1813, members of the Hibernian Society marched in procession to the Independent Presbyterian Church. 

The second was a private parade held in 1818 by a local military group known as the Fencibles. The first official St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in 1824 when a notice from the Hibernian Society was published in the local paper, “The Georgian,” inviting the citizens of Savannah to join them for a discourse at the Roman Catholic Church on the Feast of St. Patrick the following day. 

The notice also called for the members of the Society to be punctual in their attendance at a 10 a.m. meeting, in order to conduct the business at hand, before moving in procession to the church. This is the first documented invitation to the general public regarding the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah,” she said, sharing research she did in conjunction with Georgia Southern University.

“There is just so much rich history here that so many people don’t even know about,” she said. “It’s that’s one of the wonderful things about this city... meeting similar people, sharing our history and experiences, and helping make this city even better.”

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