All of us want to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll pass ourselves off as being from the O’Leggett clan of County Kilkenny. We’ll sport “Kiss Me; I’m Irish” buttons and drink green beer. And only spoilsports won’t wear green.
The Irish don’t seem to mind if the whole world shares their pride of heritage on March 17 – the official day that Ireland honors its patron saint.
Linda Dyer Hart doesn’t have to pretend to be Irish. She’s green on both sides of her family. The founder and executive director of the Charlotte St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Charlotte Goes Green Festival comes from County Sligo on her father’s side and Galway on her mum’s.
This year’s parade – the 19th annual one – kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Tryon and Ninth streets. The parade – more than 120 units strong – will then continue south on Tryon to Third Street, take a left there and continue to Caldwell Street.
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Hart expects more than 60,000 for the daylong celebration of all things Celtic, including authentic Irish ale: Guinness and Guinness Blonde Ale, Harp and Smithwick’s.
“I wanted to create an authentic St. Patrick’s Day parade with a festival to follow,” she says of the event she started nearly two decades ago. “I’m proud of my Irish heritage and wanted to share the excitement and fun.”
The first year included just a small group led by a bagpiper. “We marched down Tryon Street to some restaurants and bars while singing Irish songs,” she recalls. “People loved it.”
Pat Terrell, a former Notre Dame football player and – at the time, a Carolina Panther – was the first grand marshal. This year’s grand marshal is Dr. John Young, Ireland’s first honorary consul for North Carolina.
Tradition is important at the Charlotte Goes Green Festival – just as it is to a country that gave the world William Butler Yeats, U2 and Guinness. (Did you know that Arthur Guinness started brewing beer in 1759, after he signed a 9,000-year lease for an unused brewery in Dublin?)
Fan favorites returning this year are drum lines, Irish dancers, horses, and animal rescue groups such as those for Great Danes, cocker spaniels, basset hounds, golden retrievers and English sheepdogs. You may even spot a leprechaun or two.
But the parade also welcomes new traditions. Thirty first-time entries will take part in the parade, including The School of Rock, a band playing Irish rock. And two bagpipe bands will make their debuts, joining the Grandfather Mountain Highlanders and the Charlotte Fire Department Pipes and Drums.
If you’re going to pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day – and we all do it – you should at least know how to correctly translate “Erin Go Bragh.”
(It means: “Ireland Forever.” You’re welcome.)
Now, go enjoy a pint. You may not have a Celtic heritage. But on St. Paddy’s Day, you get a pass.
Charlotte St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Charlotte Goes Green Festival
WHEN: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Uptown Charlotte.
HIGHLIGHTS: Live Irish music, Irish dancers and a pipe band performance by the Grandfather Mountain Highlanders. ... More than 60 vendors, offering Irish and Celtic items, crafts, and food and drink. ... A Celtic kids’ zone, with games and inflatables. ... Wilson of WCCB’s “Wilson’s World” will emcee the parade, which kicks off at 11 a.m. ... All the entertainment centers around the stage at the Levine Avenue of the Arts.