By Sheila O’Kelly
Documents in Saint Augustine in Florida, show that the first recorded parade in the world to honour Saint Patrick, took place on the 17th March 1601, when Spanish people marched through the city of Saint Augustine in honour of Saint Patrick, under the direction of the Irish Parish Priest, Richard Arthur. Saint Patrick was regarded as the Patron Saint of corn and maize fields in the Spanish settlement.
The first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston, organised by the Irish community there, was held on the 17th March, 1737. The first New York Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was held on the 15th March, 1762.
During the Famine in Ireland (1845-1849) Irish people emigrated to England and America for work and better living conditions. Due to the massive increase of Irish immigrants in the United States, patriotism amongst them continued to grow with the support of the New York Irish Aid Societies.
The large growing numbers of Irish Americans eager to display and celebrate their history and culture, endowed them with a political power.
The Irish American voting block, known as the “Green Machine” became important to political hopefuls.
The 17th March celebrations became widespread with Boston, Chicago, Savannah and Philadelphia celebrating the day. In the mid 1800s, the Irish 69th Regiment serving in the British Army in New York began to lead the parades.