Organizers revise St. Patrick’s Day parade route

The St. Patrick’s Day Ob­serv­ance As­so­ci­ation is host­ing a pub­lic fun­draiser on Sunday at the Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice hall fea­tur­ing live Ir­ish mu­sic and dance groups. 

The pan­or­amic Ben­jamin Frank­lin Park­way may be splen­did to be­hold for those look­ing to ra­tion­al­ize Phil­adelphia’s status as a world city. 

But to the tens of thou­sands of tour­ists and loc­al folks who gath­er each March to rev­el in what may be the na­tion’s old­est an­nu­al St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Park­way of­ten feels more like the basin of the Grand Canyon, with its wide-open spaces and paucity of pub­lic amen­it­ies.

Even the port-o-pot­ties can seem miles away.

This year, event or­gan­izers are striv­ing for more of a cozy, old Dub­lin tone and have rerouted the fest­ive mile-long march for the first time in more than two dec­ades. The shops, pubs and res­taur­ants of Mar­ket East, along with City Hall, Dilworth Park and In­de­pend­ence Hall, will be the new back­drop for a tra­di­tion that pre-dates the na­tion it­self.

“We’re go­ing to be on this route for the next two years, that’s for sure. And as a board we’d like to stay here for a long time,” said Bill Ivers, pres­id­ent of the St. Patrick’s Day Ob­serv­ance As­so­ci­ation.

To help it meet the fin­an­cial ob­lig­a­tions of sta­ging such an af­fair, the as­so­ci­ation is host­ing a pub­lic fun­draiser on Sunday, Feb. 19, at the Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice hall, 11630 Car­oline Road, in the North­east from 3 to 7 p.m. The event will fea­ture live Ir­ish mu­sic and dance groups, a buf­fet and adult bever­ages. Ad­mis­sion costs $40.

The parade will be on Sunday, March 12, at noon. Al­though oth­er cit­ies, namely Bo­ston and New York, lay claim to the old­est St. Patrick’s Day parades in the world, Ivers is con­vinced that Phil­adelphia is the right­ful hold­er of that title. Philly’s pub­lic march began in 1771, where­as pre­vi­ous ob­serv­ances in oth­er cit­ies were gen­er­ally private re­li­gious af­fairs be­fit­ting a feast day for Ire­land’s pat­ron saint.

By con­trast, Phil­adelphia’s very pub­lic parade has grown to in­clude about 200 march­ing groups ran­ging in size from a couple dozen to sev­er­al hun­dred. And per­haps 80,000 spec­tat­ors will line the route, which will be­gin at 16th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, circle the south side of City Hall and pro­ceed east­ward on Mar­ket Street to Fifth.

The per­form­ance area, grand­stands, re­view­ing stand and Fox 29 TV booth will be set up on In­de­pend­ence Mall. The In­de­pend­ence Vis­it­ors Cen­ter will be open to the pub­lic and will also house re­stric­ted ac­cess hos­pit­al­ity areas, re­pla­cing the usu­al ca­ter­ing tents.

Read­ing Ter­min­al Mar­ket, Chin­atown, In­de­pend­ence Beer Garden, the Na­tion­al Con­sti­tu­tion­al Cen­ter, the Old City busi­ness dis­trict and the Na­tion­al Me­mori­al to An Gorta Mor (Ire­land’s Great Hun­ger of the 1840s and ’50s) are all in close walk­ing dis­tance of the parade route. Shuttles will run between Fourth Street and the Sug­ar­House Casino, which will be avail­able for spec­tat­or and par­ti­cipant park­ing.

The march will fol­low es­sen­tially the same route as the city’s suc­cess­ful Vet­er­ans Day parade, held each Novem­ber. The former St. Patrick’s Day route also began at 16th and JFK be­fore pro­ceed­ing north to the Park­way and north­w­est to Eakins Oval. While gran­di­ose, the route was less than in­tim­ate due to the sheer width of the street with its 10 lanes of black­top. 

On­go­ing con­struc­tion on the Vine Street Ex­press­way ac­cel­er­ated the ef­fort to find an al­tern­at­ive route. May­or Jim Ken­ney, Coun­cil­man Bobby Hen­on and state Rep. Mike Driscoll were key sup­port­ers of the change.

“The Park­way is all dug up. Bridges are be­ing re­built,” Ivers said. “The Park­way is so wide and windy out there (any­way), so there’s no place for people to go in­to.”

In ad­di­tion to re­veal­ing the new route re­cently via the parade’s of­fi­cial web­site, phil­adelphi­ast­pat­s­, or­gan­izers an­nounced this year’s grand mar­shal, honorees and theme, “Pro­tect and Guide Our Po­lice Of­ficers.”

Barney Boyce of the Doneg­al As­so­ci­ation will be grand mar­shal. The 2017 Ring of Hon­or in­cludes As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Jude Con­roy, Phil­adelphia GAA Chair­man Ger­ard Dillon, re­tired Fam­ily Court Of­ficer John J. Dougherty Sr., IUOE Loc­al 542 Busi­ness Man­ager Robert T. Heen­an, Mi­chael P. Mee­han Esq., Thomas N. O’Don­nell of AOH Di­vi­sion 39, Po­lice Chief In­spect­or Joseph Sul­li­van, Po­lice Capt. Wil­li­am Maye, Po­lice Lt. Ed­ward P. Mon­aghan, Uni­versity of Pennsylvania Po­lice Of­ficer Ed­ward Miller and re­tired Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficers Patrick Boyle, Robert Hurst and James E. Len­nox.

The Feb. 19 fun­draiser will in­clude per­form­ances by Ray Cole­man and Luke Jar­del, The Shantys, Bal­lina, the Em­er­ald Pipe Band and Celt­ic Flame Dan­cers. Con­tact Joe Fox at 215-429-0193 or Ed Dougherty at 267-879-6107 for tick­ets. ••

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