OCEAN CITY – The resort’s St. Patrick’s Day traditions will carry on in Ocean City on Saturday with the annual parade marching down to a festival featuring live music, Irish foods and cocktails.
The 33rd Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade will begin at noon on Saturday, March 15, parading south from 58th Street to the 45th Street Village where the reviewing and judges stand will be located.
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, judges’ choice award and best overall entry in the parade.
The celebration at 45th Street Village begins at 11 a.m. The shopping center will once again be transformed into a lively Irish festival complete with live Irish entertainment, dancers, face painting, Irish apparel and plenty of food and drink. It is a free-admission event for spectators who can enjoy live entertainment provided by Pat O’Brennan and dancing by the Footsteps Irish Dancers.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival is sponsored by the Delmarva Irish-American Club (DIAC), and the event has grown to be the second largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the State of Maryland.
The DIAC was founded in 1980. The first membership drive resulted in 75 members; today the membership totals more than 300 and is open to anyone who is Irish, of Irish descent or just likes things Irish. The club has awarded over $250,000 for scholarships to local students from the proceeds of previous parades.
According to Buck Mann of DIAC, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade started out with only a few cars and a handful of participants. At that time, DIAC was just starting out, and the small membership agreed to hold the parade on St. Patrick’s Day no matter what day it fell on.
According to Dennis Roarty, past president of DIAC, Mann and Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan took over the parade in its second year and grew it into an enormous event today. At that time, Mann owned an Irish bar on the Boardwalk, McGee’s, and convinced the club to have the parade on a Saturday. With Meehan’s help, they secured the 45th Street Village parking lot for the festival grounds where the celebration remains to this day.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade took off to where over 100 parade entries are expected each year and over 100,000 people crowd the streets to take part in the festivities.
“It is the official kick off to the spring,” Mann said. “The restaurants and bars are re-opening, and the hotels do well because there are so many people coming into town, so it is a big hit for the town.”
Mann said that he never expected the parade to grow into the event that it is today. According to Mann, realtors and hoteliers report visitors plan long weekends ahead of time to ensure they are in Ocean City 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 and bar owners report it one of their single busiest days of the year.
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshals this year will be Cathy Donovan and her daughter and son-in-law, Colleen and Matt Brown, long-time members of the DIAC.
In 1978, Mike and Cathy Donovan moved to Ocean City from the Baltimore area. They opened up a gift shop in the 45th Street Village, and Mike started a screen printing company, New Wave, in the attic. The business blossomed and they quickly outgrew their space in the 45th Street Village, so they moved their operations to Sunset Avenue in West Ocean City.
New Wave has been making the St. Patrick’s Parade T-shirts every year, selling them on parade day in the 45th Street Village where it all started. Profits from the T-shirt sales are donated to the DIAC for scholarships that are awarded every year to local high school students.
The Donovans will be followed in the parade with pipe and drum bands, including the Chesapeake Caledonia Pipe and Drum Band, Ocean City Pipe Band, and the Delmarva Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band to bring the sounds of Ireland to the streets of Ocean City. Also participating are several area high school marching bands, including Stephen Decatur High School and Sussex Central High School, along with numerous festively decorated St. Patrick’s Day floats.
“This year we have a lot of competition between the bars and restaurants,” Mann said. “My spies have told me there are going to be some great floats this year.”
Mann remains in charge of the parade, Meehan organizes the 45th Street Festival, and Roarty and Pete Copenhaver jump in to assist as needed. The event couldn’t occur without the hundreds of volunteers helping out in some kind of aspect of the event, according to Mann.
Mann wanted to give a special thanks to DIAC Food Committee Chair Jack Taylor.
“He has always taken care of and organized the food for the festival and we want to recognize him,” Mann said.
The VFW of Ocean City will be assisting with serving food at the 45th Street Village, along with Macky’s Bayside Bar and Grill bringing the Irish coffee, BJ’s on the Water’s Irish stew and the ladies of DIAC bringing the traditional Irish soda bread to go along with it. All food and drink proceeds go to the scholarship and charity fund.
“We are looking forward to a good presentation,” Mann said. “There will be sunshine guaranteed. You better get there early.”