OCEAN CITY – This weekend will be the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Ocean City’s history, and event organizers reflected this week on how the day has grown over the years.
The 31st Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival, sponsored by the Delmarva Irish-American Club (DIAC), returns to the streets of Ocean City on Saturday, March 17.
“It starts at high noon and we’re never late,” said parade organizer Buck Mann.
Mann said that the parade first started out with two or three cars and a handful of participants. At the time, the DIAC had a few members and agreed to hold the parade on St. Patrick’s Day every day no matter what day it fell on.
According to Dennis Roarty, member of the Board of Directors and past president of the DIAC, Mann and Mayor Rick Meehan took over the parade in its second year and have grown it into an enormous event today. At the time, Mann owned an Irish bar on the Boardwalk, McGee’s (now Shenanigan’s), and convinced the club to have the parade on a Saturday, and with Meehan’s help they secured the 45th Street Village parking lot for the festival grounds.
“It has grown into a monster,” Mann said.
Hand-in-hand, the DIAC and the St. Patrick’s Day parade took off. The DIAC was founded in 1980 and has grown from 20 members to now 400 paid members and the parade has grown from a few cars to 130 entries as 100,000 people crowd the streets to take in the festivities.
“It [parade] is the second largest in Maryland, the only parade that is bigger is in Baltimore, but we are the most fun,” Mann said.
For this year’s event, Mann said that he is expecting parade entries to increase by 30 percent from last year because Baltimore’s and Ocean City’s parades fall on different weekends this year. Consequently, Mann said entries from Baltimore are booked for the beach version.
Mann said that he never expected the parade to grow into the event that it is today. He said a survey was taken by a hotelier last year and resulted in 62 percent of their guests were in Ocean City that weekend because of the parade. Also, Realtors will tell you visitors plan long weekends ahead of time to ensure they are in town over St. Patrick Day weekend to take part in the parade.
There are families that travel thousands of miles to come to Ocean City for family reunions this weekend for the past 20 years. He added that restaurant owners will be the first to tell you it is one of their busiest days of the year.
“It has been a great journey, it really has,” Mann said. “You can always expect a fun day. You’ve got to admit an Irish parade is always fun.”
Ocean City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade includes the Chesapeake Caladonia Pipe and Drum Band and the Ocean City Pipe Band, the Stephan Decatur and Sussex Central High School marching bands and many floats decorated in the spirit of the holiday. Trophies will be awarded for best marching band, best commercial float, best non-commercial float, best motorized unit, best adult marching unit, best youth marching unit, special committee award and best overall entry in the parade.
This year’s grand marshals are Harry and Kathy James who moved to Ocean View, Del. 10 years ago and one of the first things they did upon arrival is join the DIAC. The couple has become very involved with Project Children, a group that has been bringing children from Northern Ireland to spend four to six weeks with families here in the states for 37 years. They have been a host family for 19 children over the last 15 years and have also gone to Northern Ireland to visit the children, who many have grown and formed their own families.
To this day, Mann is in charge of the parade; Meehan organizes the 45th Street festival; and Roarty jumps in to assist wherever and however needed. The event couldn’t occur without the hundreds of volunteers helping out in some kind of aspect of the event.
The Irish Festival on 45th Street will kick off at 11 a.m. and will have a stage with live music, Pat O’Brennan Trio, and Footsteps Irish Dancers will perform. Food and drink will be available and everything purchased goes into a scholarship and charity fund.
“Probably in the last 10 years, we have been able to average between $15,000 and $20,000 in scholarships plus another $5,000 to local charities and youth teams,” Mann said. “Its all-volunteer and we just give it all back.”
Roarty said this year’s parade will be the biggest ever and will have record breaking crowds
“From a parade participant point of view, the spectators are as interesting as the parade itself,” he submitted. “Walking down the highway seeing generations of Irish descendants all dressed up in green, can’t help but make you smile. They’re certainly having an Ocean City memory.”
Mann said he always looks forward to walking down the street and seeing the excitement and the thousands and thousands of kids watching the parade. He added that the weather forecast looks perfect for the big event.