Holyoke St Patrick's Parade
The first parade to honor our Irish heritage was held in 1952 and was the culmination of over a year of planning by members of the Brian Boru club, the Ancient Order of Hibernians with assistance from the members of the Holyoke Police and Fire Departments. Early support was also received from the Holyoke parishes and Catholic schools in the city.
With a modest $200 donation the annual parade has mushroomed into the premier Saint Patrick’s Parade in the Northeast. Coupled with our Saint Patrick Road Race, held annually the day before the parade, it has been determined our organization has an economic impact that is in excess of $20 million according to the study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute,
The city of 45,000 people has welcomed up to 400,000 people for the spectacular parade that showcases prize winning floats, championship bands from the northeast and notable celebrities each year. Musical units include international bands as well as the famed and elaborately costumed Philadelphia Mummers string bands – an annual favorite since 1967.
Beginning in 1955 a Grand Colleen and her court has reigned over the annual parade from a majestic float that carries them along the nearly three mile parade route. Originally selected by popular ballots cast by citizens, five finalists are now selected by judges at a pageant where they compete for the honor, scholarships and a trip to Ireland. The Grand Colleen is chosen during a black tie formal Coronation Ball which is the highpoint of the city’s social calendar.
Leading the parade each year is the Grand Marshal, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a resident of our city or a member of the Committee who is of Irish ancestry. Similarly, the recipient of the annual John F. Kennedy National Award takes a place of honor in the parade. Originally presented in 1958 as the Outstanding American of Irish Descent, it was renamed in 1964 to honor the first recipient, John F. Kennedy who was then a Senator soon to be the President of the United States.
Over the years, such notables as actress Maureen O’Hara, authors, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Tom Clancy and David McCullough, astronaut “Cady” Coleman, Tom Ridge, the first director of Homeland Security and Richard Cardinal Cushing have been honored and have joined with us for our annual celebration of Saint Patrick. The list of recipients of the prestigious award has become what is commonly referred to as the “Who’s Who of Irish Americans.”
Since 1959 the Parade has been televised live; first by WWLP, the NBC affiliate for Western Massachusetts and most recently by WGBY – the PBS station that has expanded the broadcast to include live streaming. There is little doubt that the televising of our Parade, almost since its inception, along with the decision by the late Bishop Christopher J. Weldon to present the John F. Kennedy National Award during a live televised Mass has increased awareness and the stature of our annual Parade, Road Race and all of the events we produce.
Our 10K Road Race has grown from less than two hundred runners in 1976 to become the largest race in Western New England with thousands competing for cash prizes. The early support given by Olympians Bill Rogers, who won the first three races, and Frank Shorter helped to establish this race as a quality event.
Parade day in Holyoke was selected by the Republic of Ireland’s Ambassador to the United States as the day and place to present the Ambassador’s Award. It was established to honor an individual whose efforts promote the relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Ireland. Among the notables who have been to Holyoke for this prestigious honor was the late entertainer, Tommy Makem, Congressman Peter King, Patricia Harty, Editor-in-chief of Irish American magazine and Niall O’Dowd, Publisher, Irish Voice, tenor John McDermott, and actor David Kelly.
What began as a humble celebration so many years ago has grown into a major series of events that culminates with New England’s preeminent Saint Patrick’s celebration. Along with the Mardi Gras, Mount Rushmore, Daytona 500,the Rose Parade and other national treasures, the Holyoke Saint Patrick Parade has been Designated a Local Legacy by the Library of Congress.