Not everyone is fortunate enough to be Irish their whole lives. But, thankfully, for one day out of every year, they can all pretend. This Saturday, Ocean City, Md., will spread the luck and cheer of the Irish in a tradition that has flourished for nearly three decades, coaxing thousands upon thousands of followers to celebrate one of the Eastern Shore’s most prized festivities.
The Ocean City St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Festival boasts the second largest parade for the holiday in the entire state of Maryland, just behind Baltimore’s. The number of people who come out to support its cause has been growing steadily since its start. Attendants of all ages are promised a good time — from live music and floats to authentic Irish food, and, of course, plenty of beer to go around.
“The parade is the perfect way to kick off the spring season,” said Ocean City Mayor and President of the Delmarva Irish-American Club Rick Meehan. The city-wide celebration is organized by the club’s former president and current parade chairman, Buck Mann.
“He’s done a tremendous job over the years,” said Meehan. “It’s an event that everyone looks forward to each year, and without him, it wouldn’t be possible.”
The parade is set to start at noon on Saturday, March 15, at 61 Street and travel south-bound to the 45th Street Village, where the festival, which starts at 11 a.m., will continue until 4 p.m. “The parade itself is never late,” Mann promised.
This is the largest fundraising event for the nonprofit Delmarva Irish-American Club. Money raised each year goes back into the community, primarily through scholarships for graduating area high school students.
“We raise around $15,000 for the scholarships,” Meehan added, “and that number has been increasing each year.” Revenue from concessions and programs help to fund the event.
Although drinking is involved, the celebration is by no means limited to adults. The parade and festival is quite the family affair, with music, dancing, face-painting, raffles, vendors, games and plenty of eats that people of all ages can enjoy.
Three marching pipe bands will be getting the audience into the Celtic spirit. Floats of all sizes, from local businesses, restaurants and law enforcement organizations will drift down Coastal Highway, with a chance for each to win the competition for best decorated float. A representative from the Irish Embassy will also take part in the parade.
Local restaurant B.J.’s on the Water is even known to deck out their float with their house band, performing through the streets. This year, 130 entrants have signed up to be in the parade.
“It’s really a huge event for all of the bars and restaurants in the city,” said Meehan. “The streets are absolutely packed. So many people look forward to the parade and they return each year.”
The free festivity isn’t just for Eastern Shore residents. It draws from all over the Atlantic coastline, with fans — some of Irish heritage, some not — hailing from throughout New England and elsewhere in the East.
“We even have a family from Ohio who has been coming back for 15 years with at least 40 people,” said Mann. “They make the festival their family reunion.”
At the festival, attendants of legal drinking age can enjoy the beverages supplied by the Delmarva Irish-American Club, outdoors in a responsible fashion — an ongoing tradition that has been regulated exclusively for this celebration.
The Delmarva Irish-American Club St. Patrick’s Day Festival — which it originally started as — has more or less become the Ocean City St. Patrick’s Day Festival, but, according to Mann, that’s just fine by him.
“There’s a lot of support coming from the community,” said Mann. “A good amount of assistance comes from Delaware, too. It’s really a big undertaking, but we have some wonderful volunteers from all over the area.
“Each year, we go all out, and everything seems to fall into place. It’s just unbelievable what everyone manages to accomplish each year. It’s always a great time.”
The Club works closely with local law enforcement and the town, including Parks and Recreation, to ensure attendees can enjoy a safe celebration.
“We try to add something new each year,” Meehan said. “We have more and more people call all the time to be in it, and the streets become more and more crowded. It really is the place to be on St. Patrick’s Day weekend.”