By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
PHILADELPHIA – Geoffrey Chaucer said it best back in the 14th century – “Lord, this is a huge rayn. This were a weder for to slepen inne.”
Well, Chaucer was an Englishman, not Irish. No Irishman worth his Guinness would sleep in on the morning of a St. Patrick’s Day parade, just because of a (great) bit of rain.
A fair number of the marchers got March 14 off to a proper start by attending the nine o’clock Mass at St. Patrick Church off Rittenhouse Square, where they heard their archbishop, Cardinal Justin Rigali, extol the virtues of Erin’s favorite saint.
Patrick was “one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the world, whose life and ministry consisted in proclaiming God’s marvelous deeds to the people of Ireland,” the Cardinal said. Because the Irish took Patrick’s message and carried it to many lands, “the impact of St. Patrick to the world is enormous,” he said.
By the time the parade got started at noon the rain was fairly steady. Nevertheless most of the 217 groups listed in the program dutifully lined up for the march on the Ben Franklin Parkway. It was understandable for some that were absent, like the New Jersey Shore units that were flooded in and couldn’t come up to the city.
There they were, the step dancers from the many Irish dancing schools in the area; the marching bands from near and far; Irish societies; and more Ancient Order of Hibernian groups than one could imagine.
Never mind some of the groups had to march in Macintoshes or plastic raincoats. And the wooden dance floor by the reviewing stand was so rain-slick the little girls had to dance behind it. Everybody just had a good time.
“This is probably my fifth year coming,” said former federal prosecutor Patrick Meehan. “It’s just a wonderful celebration of Irish history. The rain is like a day in Dublin, and the parade has to go on rain or shine.”
“Other people were probably praying for rain and God tests us during Lent,” said Father Chris Walsh, a co-chaplain for the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association, along with Father Kevin Gallagher. “It’s a beautiful day to celebrate with great people and great friends.”
Jane and Emma Bradley, who walked with their grandfather, were part of the younger generation in the parade.
“My grandfather (Judge Edward Bradley) was a former parade Grand Marshal. I’ve been here five times,” said Jane, 11.
“I like it, even when it rains,” added Emma, 9.
Bob Hurst, a director with the County Mayo Society, was bursting with pride over the new Our Lady of Knock statue on their float just purchased for $9,000.
As for the weather, “This is just a soft Irish day, a grand day,” he said.
Pat Noone-Bonner started coming in 1961 when she began dating her future husband Newt Bonner, a long-time member of the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Association.
“I love seeing all the people,” she said. “It’s great for the people who march, and it’s great for the people who come to see it.”
But what’s a parade without awards?
Just to name a few: the Hon. James H.J. Tate Award for the group who best exemplified the spirit of the parade went to the Cara Championship Dancers. The Msgr. Thomas J. Rilley Award for best fraternal group went to the Second Street Irish Society. The George Costello Award for best float went to the Cavan Society. The Hon. Vincent A. Carroll Award for best musical unit went to the Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drum Band.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.