St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Faire in Phoenix

If there is one popular St. Patrick’s Day tradition the forces behind the Irish Cultural Center would like to eliminate, it would be green beer.

Especially green beer.

“When people come in asking for green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, I tell them, ‘This is a real Irish pub. We don’t sell that here,’ ” said Seamus McCaffrey, this year’s parade grand marshal, owner of Rosie McCaffrey’s Irish Pub and Restaurant and one of the founders of the Irish Cultural Center.

All joking aside, members of the Irish community agree that many important aspects of Irish culture get lost during the stereotypical party holiday. Many people believe St. Patrick’s Day is an excuse to consume as many pints of Guinness and shots of Jameson whiskey as possible, but community leaders see it as a day to educate the public about what it means to be Irish and to make sure future generations embrace who they are.

That’s where the St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Faire comes in.

Patricia Prior, the cultural center’s executive director and one of 2012’s Irish Persons of the Year (along with her husband, Sean), said the goal of the parade and fair is to broaden the public’s knowledge about Irish culture and dispel stereotypes.

“We joke about green beer and leprechauns, but the Irish culture has so much to offer, in music, art, literature and dance,” she said. “People now read (Samuel) Beckett and (James) Joyce throughout the world, and step dancing has become a cultural phenomenon with ‘Riverdance.’ That’s why the cultural center is here: to show people what it means to be Irish.”

The parade had humble beginnings in 1984 with a mere 300 participants marching through downtown, which included McCaffrey and the Priors. As the parade grew larger each year, a festival was eventually added to bring more awareness to Irish culture. When the Irish Cultural Center opened in 2001, organizers moved the fair to Margaret T. Hance Park so attendees could see what programs the adjacent center offers.

“There are about 5,000 that attend the fair, and the parade attracts even more than that,” said Mary Moriarty, parade chairwoman and operations manager for the cultural center. “There are five schools of Irish dance in the Valley, and a myriad of Irish musicians — we’re lucky to have such a wide selection. We encourage people to spend the whole day with us, and enjoy this great celebration of Irish culture.”

The parade will kick off at Sheridan and Third streets in midtown Phoenix, featuring Irish step dancers, bagpipers, marching bands and Los San Patricios de Arizona, a group that honors the bond between the Irish and Mexicans. McCaffrey will lead the parade with the Priors and the 2012 Arizona Irish Colleen and her court trailing behind him. For McCaffrey, who grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the all-day celebrating is an important part of who he is.

“In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is a (Roman Catholic) holiday of obligation,” McCaffrey said. “People go to the church, and every town has its own parade. People wear fresh shamrocks, and after all the events, go to the pub for a couple of pints.”

The fair begins immediately after the parade, with two stages of entertainment including Celtic rock bands and Irish dancers. The kids area will feature a petting zoo, pony rides and face painters. A vendor specializing in genealogy will be on site, working with Irish names and family coats of arms. Fair attendees also will get a sneak peek at the construction progress of the Irish Cultural Center’s 15,000-square-foot library, which will focus on genealogy.

Moriarty, who grew up in a very Irish-American household, said it’s important for her to pass her culture to future generations, which is why she is so involved in the Irish Cultural Center.

“It was ingrained in me to grow up to pass on my culture,”she said. “I’m proud to be American, and I’m proud of where my ancestors came from. I hope parents will realize that it’s important to expose their children to their background and culture, because if they don’t pass it on, it will eventually go away.”

Source: Kellie Hwang,


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