This spirited tribute to St. Paul’s Irish community began in 1967 at Gallivan’s restaurant and bar. "It was a bitter cold day during the Winter Carnival," says Bob Gallivan. Some of his pals stopped by to get out of the cold and have a drink. "Let’s have a Saint Patrick’s Day Parade," Gallivan remembers saying, "before we get too old."
Word spread and the planning began. Judge Edward Devitt who had marched every year –"It’s a sin to miss it"—was part of that first committee. "This is a natural center for a St. Patrick’s Day parade, because there are so many Irish."
All of the parades have been a rousing success. Even that first one, whipped into shape in just two months, drew crowds six deep on the side walks. The marchers, lead by Mayor Thomas Byrne, carrying a shillelagh, left the Hilton hotel (now the Radisson) at noon and proceeded down Kellogg Blvd. to the St. Paul Hotel. The last unit crossed the finish line at 12:40.
Tucked in among the family units and the dignitaries were the Brian Boru Irish pipe band, the St. Patrick honor guard, even the Vulcans, who wrapped their fire truck in green crepe paper for the occasion.
But the focus of the parade has always been on the family groups. According to Stewart Loper, Treasurer of the Saint Patrick’s Association which sponsors the parade activities, the sentiment is that we want the families and kids to participate." Loper calls it "a baby buggy parade. And we work hard to keep it that way."
As a result, motorized vehicles are kept to a minimum. There’s a float for Ms. Shamrock and a car for the celebrity Grand Marshal.
The tradition of the crowning a local Irish lass Ms. Shamrock began with that first parade – Agnes Sullivan was the lucky lady. William J. Hickey was the first Mr. Pat, an honor extended to the man of Irish descent who as contributed the most to life in St. Paul.
There are other traditions initiated in 1967 that remain part of the festivities – the swath of emerald paint down the center of the parade route, for instance. And the six weeks of button blitzing that the Miss Shamrocks and the Blarney Brothers perform to raise money for the parade and charities. Irish Gazette, March 1991