It's time for wearin' o' the green again, y'all

March 17, 1994|By Boston Globe

NEW ORLEANS -- The Decatur Street St. Patrick's Day parade -- the first of this month's many Irish festivities in New Orleans -- took place last Friday, and the celebration continues with only one distant, discordant note: "I don't go along with this holier-than-thou stuff," said parade organizer Jim Monaghan. "Sexual orientation doesn't matter to us."

After watching on TV this week as John "Whacko" Hurley, president of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, defended a decision to cancel the St. Patrick's Day parade in Boston rather than let a gay group march, Mr. Monaghan said, "I think it's sad Mr. Hurley doesn't realize these people are somebody's children."

Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter denied an emergency request for intervention.

There is a special irony to St. Patrick's Day this year. While Northern metropolises such as Boston, New York and Chicago once held the franchise for the holiday, Southerners with Celtic backgrounds are joining the celebration in increasing numbers. And in a region long associated with prejudice, they have been eager to conduct their parades without regard to race, politics or sexual persuasion.

Malcolm White, the founder of an annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Jackson, Miss., said: "Send us all the gays. We want to show America once and for all that Mississippi doesn't discriminate."

After a similar controversy over the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York earlier in the decade, Mr. White said, he made the outcasts from Manhattan the grand marshals of the Jackson event.

The mayor of Savannah, Ga., Susan Weiner -- who introduced herself as Susan O'Weiner in a telephone interview -- said there had been no complaints concerning any of the 250 units that will march in her city today. The Savannah parade, which attracts 300,000 spectators, is the largest in the South.

"It's one of those events that are so wonderful for us," Ms. Weiner said.

With azaleas blooming and redbuds trees suddenly providing bright splashes of color, St. Patrick's Day is also a good excuse to exorcise winter.

"Jackson is not exactly a hotbed of Irish immigrants. You don't have to be Irish -- or even white -- to do this," said Mr. White, who started the Mississippi event 12 years ago. "Jackson was desperate for an event, and this turned out to be our rites of spring. It's not the work of any club, church, organization or krewe. We said from the get-go, everybody's invited. Black and white."

The growing urge to observe St. Patrick's Day is partly a recognition of ethnic identity; it also represents a tendency, especially in New Orleans, to throw a party at the drop of a hat.

The South was settled by immigrants from Ireland long before the Irish parishes began thriving in South Boston and Dorchester. The first wave, composed of Catholics fleeing Cromwell, landed on the Carolina shores in 1680 and quickly spread across the Southeast. They were followed by thousands of Scots-Irish Protestants who had been expelled from Scotland to Northern Ireland by the English monarchy before giving up their Irish homes for America in the 1700s.

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