Without a doubt, Savannah does indeed host one of the largest and liveliest Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in America. The parade is not to be missed. Over half a million will be there with green on. But why is the luck of the Irish felt here all year round? Let’s take a closer look at the other side of the rainbow in Savannah, without any further Irish cliches.
The Origin Story
To understand Savannah’s love affair with Ireland, you have to go back. Way back before Georgia was a state. In the 1730s, Irish immigrants seeking religious freedom were many of the area’s first settlers. The colony’s second royal governor, Henry Ellis, was himself of Irish descent. Immigration intensified during the land rush of the 1830s and 1840s. Then, in 1845 when the potato famine hit Ireland, the hard-working Irish fled to Savannah in mass to become the primary source of labor throughout Georgia’s growth. In the later part of the 19th century, when the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution pushed many north, cities like Boston and New York began to turn the Irish away in favor of American-born workers. In contrast, Savannah’s burgeoning shipping, agricultural, and railroad industries embraced the influx of resolute Irish workers.
Accompanying the centuries-long rise of the Irish population, Irish heritage has strongly impacted Savannah’s rich culture and civic pride. From a walk through Emmet Park to see the Celtic Cross to a stroll through the Old Fort Neighborhood to feel like a member of the original Gaelic working class – you can easily feel the Irish influence any day of the year.
Pro Tips: The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist hosts Saint Patrick’s Day mass typically the Sunday prior. Saint Patrick’s Day also gets a formal kickoff during a ceremony celebrating Irish heritage at the Celtic Cross in Emmet Park.
The First Parade
What is now a spectacle with several hundred thousand in attendance, the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah began as a private affair. On March 17 in 1813, the Hibernian Society of Savannah, a group of forty-four Savannah gentlemen on a mission to care for Irish immigrants, marched in a private Saint Paddy’s Day celebration. Over a decade later, the President of the Society invited all local Irishmen to join in a public procession. The popularity of the Irish commemoration continued to grow, and in 1870 the first Grand Marshall was appointed to lead the seasonal events. Other than a half-dozen interruptions, like the Civil War and the Irish revolution, the parade has marched on for over two centuries.
The Grand Marshall
On the last Sunday in February, the parade committee will continue the tradition of electing a new Grand Marshall, a tremendous honor. It’s also a huge commitment. This year’s electee will attend nearly sixty events over four weeks. Certainly the most famous among them is the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17.
Witness History in the Marching
Be a part of this year’s Saint Patrick’s Day events which actually extend over several days. Check out our complete guide here. The city’s population will grow five-fold for the festivities, so visit StayinSavannah.com to book your hotel now.Plan Your Stay