DOGTOWN—Any day but one, you won’t find many places outside of Ireland more Irish than Dogtown’s Pat Connolly Tavern. But on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, there’s no place outside of downtown Dublin so green, so full of blarney and green beer as that tavern and the rest of the neighborhood.
That’s when the 36th Annual Ancient Order of Hibernians St. Patrick’s Day Parade moves down Tamm Avenue from Oakland to Manchester. At that moment, it becomes the best place for lads or lasses with the least bit of Ireland in their veins – or who wish they had some.
Located at Tamm and Oakland, where the parade starts its southbound jaunt, the Pat Connolly Tavern is one of several taverns along or near its route.
“All day long, it’s sheer madness,” said Joe Jovanovich, the bar’s owner. The tavern opens at 6 a.m., five hours before the usual 11 a.m. starting time, and stays busy all day.
The parade started in Clayton in 1984 and was held in Hazelwood in 1985. Since then, it’s been held every St. Patrick’s Day in the Irish neighborhood of Dogtown. Once the parade passes through town, the Second Annual Dogtown Irish Festival continues into the evening.
The St. Louis County Board of the Ancient Order of Hibernians sponsors the parade. The sponsors of the festival are the Hibernians and Dogtown United, which consists of business and community leaders.
“We have probably the second biggest parade in the country,” said Parade Chairman Dennis Pogue.
Parking is terrible, so Pogue recommends that people get there really early. “If you’re trying to get over there at 10:30 to get a spot, you’re just about out of luck,” he said.
More than 100 units are in the parade this year. There is no problem keeping that number, Pogue said.
“We try to invite back those who have participated in the past year,” Pogue said. Each year, about five or six entries drop out. They’re replaced by a group on a waiting list. Usually, there are about nine or 10 on the waiting list.
The parade organizers might want more entries, but that’s all the space they have. That factor is governed by the space where the various floats line up – from the entrance to the parking lot of the zoo on Wells Avenue through Forest Park to Skinker Boulevard.
“We only have so much room,” Pogue said.
This year, former St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch will be parade grand marshal. He will give out an award for grand marshal’s choice. The awards include parade chairman’s choice, best clan, best overall homemade float and best decorated house on the parade route. Those decorations might include lights or anything green. “You name it, we have it,” Pogue said.
In 2016, the winner of the best float award was entered by the Fitzgerald Clan. For more than 10 years, about 20 or 30 members of the clan and their friends marched in the parade. Then in 2016, they moved up to a float that roughly looks like one of the wooden ships that brought the Irish to America.
The float was built in pieces at Onesta Construction, owned by Vic Lages, said Don Fitzgerald, 49, a financial planner who lives in Wildwood. It’s assembled on a 30-foot-long trailer.
Members of the clan come from places like Overland, South St. Louis and St. Charles, said Fitzgerald, who organized the event.
“It’s a several generation family affair,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a good way to get family together.” Kids as young as one have been carried in the event.
Fitzgerald praised the way the event is organized. “They really try to make it more of a family friendly place,” Fitzgerald said.
The floats include a 1943 green fire truck brought by the Fitzgerald Clan and an Irish castle on a truck brought by the Emerald Society of Missouri.
Various fire departments are bringing nine or 10 fire trucks.
Two Irish dance schools are bringing trucks with trailers where their members dance. Those are the O’Faolain Academy of Irish Dance and the Meghan Torno School of Irish Dance.
The McCreery Clan is bringing a pickup truck that blows giant bubbles.
“We have antique cars, Cadillacs, you name it, we’ve got it,” Pogue said.
As part of the lead up to the parade, entrants had to attend a meeting to listen to safety rules and regulations. One regulation requires that “wheel walkers” walk in front of the wheels of moving vehicles, so that kids might not get too close. That happens when they run to get candy that’s thrown at them.
Besides the traditional food and drinks from various vendors, the festival will feature a merchant village on Clayton Avenue east of Tamm. It will include feature Irish shirts, jewelry and other items. Rusty Nail will play live music from 1 p.m.to 5 p.m. on the festival stage by the gazebo at Clayton at Wise Avenue.
To reduce trash, underage drinking and binge drinking, the event’s rules prohibit coolers and backpacks. Glass containers are also banned. Seventy five security guards from Contemporary Services Corporation will operate 25 entry and exit areas and along the parade route. Security will be in force from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Police will check for underage drinking in the area and ticket illegally parked vehicles. Outside sales will stop at 6 p.m. Businesses will close at 8 p.m.