Where the crowds have grown tenfold

Mount Holly’s St. Patrick’s parade expected to draw thousands

For more than 200 years, the Irish have immigrated to the U.S. to find a better life: rebels on the run from the British; young people seeking jobs; and, in the biggest wave, those facing starvation during Ireland’s Great Hunger of 1845-1849.

The immigrants were initially greeted by signs like, “Irish need not apply.” And while over the generations they became part of America’s fabric, the Irish remember and honor their roots. That will be demonstrated Saturday, March 4, when more than 10,000 people will line the streets of Mount Holly for the 19th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

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The first parade in 2005 was rather small, with five bands and 25 groups in total, according to Mount Holly Director of Communications Jim Logue.

“Over the years, it has grown to about 80 groups in the parade, around 15 bands including pipers, Mummers bands, Irish Dancers, Irish organizations, floats, and much more,” he noted. “The crowds have grown tenfold.”

This year’s parade will start at 1 p.m. from the Fairgrounds Plaza at the top of High Street and continue the length of High Street, ending at the corner of High and Washington, where the parade’s groups will perform at the reviewing stand. There will also be a performance stop at St. Andrew’s Church on High Street.

There will be a 5K and kids’ fun run at 11:30 on the morning of the parade. The cost is $35 and all proceeds will support the Mount Holly Recreation Department and local youth activities. All runners will receive shirts and medals after the race, and an Irish musician will play as they finish and around the reviewing stand as the parade begins.

Burlington County’s St. Patrick’s Parade Committee was founded in 2004, and Ed Kelly was the grand marshal of the first event in 2005.

“In addition to the parade, we now host an annual Irish festival in September, an Oktoberfest in October, concert series in the summer, bus trips, Irish Literature and cultural events, and other activities throughout the year,” Logue said.

This year’s parade will feature the Polish American and Greater Kensington Mummers’ string bands; the 63rd Army Band; and several pipe bands, including Lia Fail, that have traveled to and performed in Ireland. Other Irish groups will include The Shantys, Birmingham Six, The Natterjacks, and the Mulligans. Irish dancers from the Celtic Flame School of Irish Dance and Peters School of Irish Dance will be on hand, along with several Irish floats.

“The parade injects a significant amount of money into the local economy,” Logue pointed out. “In addition to supporting local businesses through printing services, local vendors, etc., it is one of the busiest days of the year, if not the busiest for most of the local bars and restaurants.”

Logue thanked the Burlington County Commissioners, Lynn Lymere of the county Resource Conservation staff, and the New Jersey Council on the Arts for their support of the parade. He explained that a recent arts grant of $7,000 this year “allows us to build on our arts offerings at the parade and increase our marketing of the parade, so that more residents can enjoy the arts.”

It has also enabled the township to expand its programs and start the Irish Festival, summer concert series, and other events. With their support of the arts, the commissioners make it possible not only for the parade to thrive and flourish, but enable other county organizations to provide arts programming to the public, Logue noted.

The grand marshal of the parade this year is Sean Hempsey, a longtime member of the parade committee and one of the volunteer coordinators who make sure floats are constructed and the parade goes off without a hitch. And each year, the parade committee honors a young woman as Miss St. Patrick.

“We work to make sure that our future generations are around to pass on the traditions and share our culture,” Logue said of the honor.

Miss St. Patrick contestants fill out an application, including an essay on what their Irish heritage means to them, and the winner receives a $1,000 scholarship. She also rides in a float near the front of the parade.

Each year’s parade theme reflects the effort to highlight important issues.

“This year’s theme is, ‘St. Patrick, Bless our Volunteers’ who build and enrich our communities,” Logue said. “We are doing this to thank our volunteers and community leaders that help to keep our communities together, especially after the last few years.

“The parade is a great day for everyone to celebrate their Irish Heritage and everyone’s Irish on parade day,” he added. “There are only a few opportunities to celebrate one’s Irish heritage without having to go to Philadelphia, and this is the best.”

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