Here's everything you need to know about St. Patrick's Day in Western Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh will be turning green with Celtic pride as the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade marches through Downtown on March 16, with some 23,000 participants, according to organizers, from regional marching bands, politicians and Irish-heritage groups.
The parade, which begins at 10 a.m. at the 11th Street and Liberty Avenue intersection, will wind through Downtown streets and end up at the review stand at Boulevard of the Allies and Stanwix Street. Glen Cannon, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, will serve as grand marshal for the parade, which includes nearly 200 marching units, 18 bands, many floats, public-safety agencies, and St. Patrick himself. And crowning the parade is Maggie Donaldson of Cheswick, who is Miss Smiling Irish Eyes.
While alcohol often flows at St. Patrick's Day celebrations, you and your kids can enjoy a dry activities at Market Square for the St. Patrick's Day Parade Fest, held during parade hours. The fest includes live musical performances from Celtic Shores and the McDonald Pipe & Drum Band and Irish dancing from the Shovelin Dance School. Entertainers such as magicians, face-painters, jugglers and balloon artists. Adults can buy alcohol in private establishments.
Hope for sunshine
The Pittsburgh St. Patrick's Day Parade hasn't always stepped off to the best weather — mid-March is still technically winter, after all.
The parade was cancelled in 1903 and 1956 because of snowstorms. But the “Great St. Patrick's Parade Blizzard” of 1993 didn't stop the marchers.
Saturday's forecast is calling for rain right now. But you never know what will happen in a Western Pennsylvania late winter-early spring day.
Even though St. Patrick was technically the patron saint of a tiny, far-away country, there's no doubt that America has adopted the celebration as its own.
Philadelphia has been parading since 1771 — before this land was even a country — and typically draws 500,000 revelers. It's also not nearly the biggest. New York City claims about two million attendees every year.
The battle for most ridiculous, over-the-top parade usually starts with Chicago, who famously turns their river green. It ends with Boston, though. They did it first, in 1737, long before anybody else, and can usually muster 850,000 or so revelers.
In the South, Savannah is also known for going big — with a three-hour parade attracting 400,000 or so people. On the West Coast, San Francisco's parade sets the pace. In the non-Chicago Midwest, you can head to the perfectly named Dublin, Ohio (near Columbus) for a fairly concentrated dose of green, and some lucky guy gets to be the Grand Leprechaun.
Miss Smiling Irish Eyes
Pittsburgh's Miss Smiling Irish Eyes has appeared in the St. Patrick's Day parade the past 49 years. The 50th winner was chosen like the girls who were named before her based on scholastic and civic achievements. A qualified applicant must be a single woman of Irish birth or descent, currently residing in the Pittsburgh area, between the ages of 17 and 22 years old.
The winner will actively promote her pride in her Irish heritage and ancestry, and show a dedicated involvement to local civic and charitable organizations.
This year's Miss Smiling Irish Eyes is Maggie Donaldson a student at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Her court members are Shea Shovlin from Oakland Catholic High School and Erin McMahon from South Park High School. The trio will ride in a horse drawn carriage in the parade and also take part in some pre-parade festivities. Donaldson's goal is to become a marine biologist.
Former Miss Smiling Irish Eyes include the late television anchor Patti Burns; and Lauren Byrne, executive director of Lawrenceville United.
And what about this snakes stuff?
The Rev. Sean Kealy says tales of St. Patrick often are good displays of how “creative the Irish are.”
Even if many of the stories are works of fiction, the theology professor at Duquesne University says, St. Patrick is a good person to follow.
“He is a fine example of how you should love your enemies,” Kealy says.
Other matters are less true, he says. The snake thing, for instance. St. Patrick is credited for ridding Ireland of snakes. Well, the good father points out, there have never been any snakes in Ireland, so he may be getting a little undue credit.
Patrick (circa 387-461) was born in England and was a Christian when he was captured at the age of 14 by pagan Irish slave traders, Kealy says. He was taken to Ireland where he was told to herd and mind sheep.
When he was 20, Patrick had a dream that told him how to escape back to England. Back in England, he had another dream that told him to return to Ireland to work on converting the pagans. Using the three leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity, he traveled around Ireland, preaching and teaching for 40 years. Kealy says St. Patrick's life of missionary work has influenced many Irish natives, such as himself, of the importance of such labors “in the spirit of Patrick.”
Green for the day
Don't expect clarity when looking for the origins of traditions.
Many reasons have been offered for the “wearing of the green” on St. Patrick's Day, even that Ireland is the Emerald Isle.
Some say it's because St. Patrick used the three leaves of the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity as he converted pagans to Christianity. By the 17th century shamrocks were being worn in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. St. Patrick himself was associated with blue rather than green.
Wearing green at the time of the Vernal equinox is an older Celtic tradition, celebrating the rebirth of the Earth. St. Patrick did adapt some of these older traditions, for example, creating the Celtic Cross with a symbol of the sun.
Nor can we forget leprechauns. Another tradition has it that wearing green makes a person invisible to leprechauns, who otherwise would pinch you.
A ring for all reasons
The design of the Claddagh ring is simple: two hands clasp a heart with an emerald at its center and topped by a crown. The hands signifies friendship, the heart represents love, the crown stands for fidelity and the emerald symbolizes Ireland.
The ring dates back to the 17th century so, understandably there are many tales about its origin.
Most agree that a young man from the fishing village of Claddagh on Galway Bay was captured by pirates and sold as a slave, possibly to a Turkish goldsmith. While working to buy his freedom, he fashioned the ring as a symbol of his never-flagging love for a young woman. After many years, he returned to Claddagh to discover she had chosen not to marry, believing he would one day come home. They married and were never again separated.
The placement of the Claddagh ring has its own rules and symbolism: Singles wear it on the right hand with the crown turned inward. Those being courted wear it on the right hand with the crown turned outward. An engaged person wear it on the left hand with the crown turned inward. Married people wear it on the left hand with the crown turned outward.
Finding your Irish roots
Those looking to trace their Irish and Scots-Irish roots can get some help with a seminar by the Ulster Historical Foundation in Belfast, hosted by the Westmoreland County Historical Society.
The Census Bureau reports that more than 450,000 people identify themselves in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area as having Irish ancestry, while another 53,000 identify as Scots-Irish.
The historical society will present the program “Tracing Your Irish and Scots-Irish Ancestors” from 1 to 3 p.m. March 25 at the society's Calvin E. Pollins Library, 362 Sand Hill Road, Greensburg.
Brian Trainor and Fintan Mullan from the Ulster Historical Foundation will discuss emigration from the north of Ireland to North America in the 18th century, along with other genealogical topics.
The program costs $25. Reservations are required by March 21. Details: 724-532-1935, ext. 210
A weekend of Celtic fun
There's definitely an Irish flavor to most of the entertainment around the area this weekend. Here are just some of the shows:
• Paddys Drunken Uncles, also known as Brad Wagner and Pat Reilly, provide “Irish Pub sing along, clap along fun” at two shows this weekend — 9 p.m. March 14 at Max & Erma's, 1910 Cochran Road, South Hills (412-344-4449) and 7 p.m. March 16 at Coach's Bottleshop and Grille, 3105 Banksville Road, Dormont (412-207-9397)
• Animal Friends will host a McBark & Brew St. Patrick's Day Beer Tasting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. March 15 at its facility at 562 Camp Horne Road in the North Hills. Those 21 and older, along with their dog- and people-friendly pooches are welcome. Admission is a $20 donation. Details: 412-847-7055 or ThinkingOutsideTheCage.org.
• Irish-born singer/songwriter Mark Dignam and friends will present a more reverential treatment of Irish song and music at 8 p.m. March 15 at Club Cafe, South Side. The event is billed as “The Calm Before The Storm: A Quiet Night of the Best of Irish Music.” Tickets are $10. Details: 866-468-3401 or www.ticketweb.com/clubcafe
• Bastard Bearded Irishmen will give a quick, free concert at 3 p.m. March 16 at Market Square, before heading to the Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square for a 9 p.m. show. Tickets for the Hard Rock show are $12. Details: www.showclix.com
• Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown, will offer free activities and entertainment from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 16, including face painting by a leprechaun, music from strolling violinist Steven Vance and good luck charm bracelets and keychain souvenirs crafts from the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh.
• Slim O'Forsythe & Scratchy McHutter, and more performers, will play Irish ballads and fiddle tunes in a free show starting at 4 p.m. March 16 at Nied's Hotel, 5438 Butler S., Lawrenceville. Details: 412-781-9853; www.niedshotel.com
• Bagpiper George Balderose and Road to the Isles will perform at 1 p.m. March 17 at First Presbyterian Church, 320 Sixth Ave., Downtown.