As you stumble across the street from Tom & Marty’s to The Rat this Saturday, you’ll probably think that you’re in the middle of a collegiate paradise. For many students, the day is hallmarked by kegs, eggs and as much day drinking as they can handle. And while it may not occur to students, the day and parade are actually meant for families and locals to celebrate Irish heritage, and pay homage to the Irish-American population that lives in the area.
The annual event began in 1968 and, according to parade committee co-chair person Tom Kelly, the parade did not start out as the giant event that we know it to be today.
In what he describes as “humble beginnings,” the parade originally was only 20 minutes in length and featured one high school band and some marchers. According to Kelly, they began introducing pipe bands from other areas in the 1980s; while now there are two local ones that perform, this original absence led to the outsourcing.
So Why Isn’t It On St. Patrick’s Day?
Sometimes, urban legends are true. In order to secure these pipe bands for Binghamton’s parade, the date needed to be moved so as to not conflict with New York City’s and other larger city’s festivities. And while the parade isn’t on the actual holiday, it has grown steadily. In the 1990s, they hired performers from the Philadelphia Mummers Parade, an event known for its colorful costumes. Often the mummers group that performs is the Avalon String Band.
“Usually our parade is when you see them in this area, on any given year,” Kelly said.
With a length close to 90 minutes, Parade Day might be a record-breaking event.
“As far as we know it’s the largest one-day event in Broome County every year,” Kelly said.
And at this point, the parade is about as big as it can get.
“The parade got to the point where we had to limit it a little bit,” Kelly said. “Simply because we did not have the man power to organize it that big.”
So who plans this huge event?
The event is an annual project of the “Hibernian Parade Committee,” with the word Hibernian coming from the word Hibernia, which is what Ireland was called back in the days of the Roman Empire.
While similar in name, the Hibernian Parade Committee is not directly related with the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), a national Irish-Catholic heritage organization. However, many of the 30 committee members are in the AOH or the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians (LAOH).
The group begins planning in the fall, with one meeting in October and one in November. During this time they will choose the three people honored in the parade: the “Maid of Erin,” or a girl from the ages of 16 to 25 with some connection to the order, as well as an “official starter,” and the grand marshal.
This year’s grand marshal will be Susan Connors, a past president within the organization. According to Kelly, Connors worked at Binghamton University, and has been extremely active as a part of the Irish community in Binghamton, having had an Irish radio show and being the director an adult Irish dance team.
So What Does All of Parade Day Entail?
To what might be the surprise of many students, not only is it not all about the bar scene, the “crawling” aspect of the day is largely unrelated to the actual parade.
The parade committee is, however, in charge of more than just the parade.
The day begins with Catholic mass at St. Mary of the Assumption on Fayette Street. After the parade, a post-parade party is held at Seton Catholic High School, a popular event that features groups from the parade, including the pipe bands, food and Irish vendors. This event is a large fundraiser for the parade.
It’s not all about students’ drunken revelry — although that aspect is very popular.
Attendees come from other cities and towns in the area, plus places as far as Scranton. In 2000, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush walked in the parade during his campaign.
“A lot of people — natives of Binghamton — plan on coming back to the area on Parade Day to see people they haven’t seen in years,” Kelly explained. “They look forward to that.”
This year’s theme is the “Irish Rising Centennial: 1916-2016,” in honor of the 100 years since the Easter Uprising. Catch the parade at 1:30 p.m. this Saturday.