St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival
Riverfront Park, Dock, Front and Water streets • March 16th, 11 a.m. • Free!
Irish or not, wilmingtonians can enjoy happenings this Saturday with celebrations for the patron saint of Ireland. Contrary to popular belief, St. Patrick was actually British-born and raised in England. As a teenager he was taken hostage by Irish raiders who were plundering his parent’s estate. After he was forced into shepherd-hood, he turned to God and became a devout Christian in his solace. Six years in, Patrick escaped back to Britain where a revelation occurred and God had him back as a missionary in the land of Ire—tough love.
Though today’s celebrations revolve less around religion and banishing snakes from Ireland a thousand or so years ago (which never happened, by the way), we relish the fanciful kitchiness of the holiday: picking four-leaf-clovers, drinking Guinness, wearing green, kissing whomever we please. Downtown Wilmington will turn into one mass of green celebrations come Saturday as the annual parade and festival get underway, beginning at 11 a.m.
Friends of the Hibernians, an Irish Catholic organization who has been hosting the event for the past 14 years, will continue the tradition rain or shine, as the parade route goes from Front, and continues down to Dock before wrapping back around Water Street. After the parade, the festival at Riverfront Park will begin at noon between Market and Princess streets.
Last year’s parade and festival brought over 8,000 people to our historic downtown. Money is raised throughout this event for the downtown marketing campaign, which is the result of the Downtown Business Alliance. DBA keeps our downtown streets clean and safe, as well as supports and unites the community and Wilmington Downtown Inc., which is designed to bring in more visitors.
The festival features live music, including local bluegrass act No Dollar Shoes and headliners The Malones. The Malones will play traditional Irish music as well as Irish-rock. Other live music will be by The Blarney Broughs, The Molly Malones and Out on the Ocean. The UNCW Slainte Irish Dance Club and The Walsh Kelley School of Irish Dancing will be slip-jigging for festival goers. There will also be craft, food and drink vendors.
Chris Andrews, event coordinator, says, “It’s a free, very family-friendly event, and we want to invite everyone to come down and enjoy the festivities!”
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a noncommercial parade with various organizations participating. “We’ll have nonprofits, military, police, the fire department, schools,” Andrews continues. “We’re not going to see any type of business advertisements.”
The festival will get a kickstart to a few men in uniform, as the Wilmington Police Pipe and Drums Band will inaugurate the festivities. There will be plenty of opportunities for guests to join in on the Irish spirit. Andrews quips, “There will be jewelry, Irish businesses (Sinead’s Cottage for example), and they’ve got all the St. Patrick memorabilia.”
Kids will be welcome to the event, too, with face-painting and even live, local theatre. Andrews says, “TheatreNOW will be performing parts from their play ‘An Irish Wake,’ [ed. note: see review on page 12], and they will be singing and telling jokes.”
The Walsh Kelley School of Irish Dancing will be performing between one and two o’clock. The organization will feature 12 kids ages 5 to 18, along with adults. School office manager Rhonda Adams tells, “We have 12 gigs booked for St. Patrick’s Day. This is our big time [of year].”
The dancers will also be jigging during the parade and festival, then at Fat Tony’s (131 N. Front Street) at 2:30 p.m., The Harp (1423 S. 3rd Street) at 6 p.m., and will squeeze in an appearance at Plantation Village in Porters Neck. On Sunday the troupe is headed to Fibbers McGees (1610 Pavilion Place) at 2 p.m., Halligan’s (3317 Masonboro Loop Road) at 4 p.m., then across town to The Lazy Pirate (1756 Caroline Beach Road) at Carolina Beach at 6 p.m. (though half the dancers will be performing in Hampstead).
All performances will have the same music, though some will have extended dances usually lasting 30 minutes. There will be the traditional Irish step with hard-shoe (looks like river dancing, with loud, audible steps) and dancing with soft-shoe known as a “ghillie” where steps are not heard. They will also be dancing to the “St. Patrick’s Day Traditional Song.” The rest of the dances are unique to the school; though the steps are the same, the choreography is their own.
During the show dancers will be differentiated by costumes. Beginners will have school costumes which are black skirts and white tops. Advanced dancers will have a traditional hard dress, which has hard panels in the skirt of the dress and navy blue embroideriy with the school emblem. The most experienced dancers will have solo dresses which are unique to each person—decked out with crystals and embroidery. Adams informs those who wish to get involved, “We have classes on Mondays, kids at 5 p.m., and adults from 7-8 p.m. at the open dance studio: 1211 44th Street.”
And when the festival shuts down at dusk, Wilmington’s nightlife will commence. Most all businesses downtown will have food and drink specials awaiting celebrators. Locals can keep the corned beef and cabbage and Guinness flowing by visiting The Harp, or the Dubliner (1756 Carolina Beach Road), both of which will have live music, too. Halligan’s will feature dancers and serve corned beef and cabbage, while Paddy’s Hallow (Cotton Exchange) also will be serving Shepherd’s pie. Folks will find many a brews at Slainte Irish Pub (7 N. Front Street) or Longstreet’s Irish Pub (133 N. Front Street), among a slew of other hotspots.