By: Megan Roche
On Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish and once again on March 9, Morris County will celebrate with their 40th Annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade throughout Morristown.
The first unofficial parade in Morristown took place in the year of 1780 when George Washington gave the Irish men in the militia the day off to honor Saint Patrick. The first official Saint Patrick’s Day Parade occurred in Morris County in 1979 in Wharton. The parade is put on annually by the Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick Morris County Chapter and the Irish American Association of North West Jersey.
How does this parade come together each year? With a ton of work. The team begins planning shortly after Saint Patrick’s Day. The biggest Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in Morris County, work for the following years celebration must begin as early as possible.
To put on any parade, money is definitely a requirement. The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade committee is always thinking ahead. This parade is one that comes at no cost to Morris County residents, for anything. See portable bathrooms? The parade committee pays for that. Extra police around Morristown on the day of the parade? The committee takes care of paying all overtime pay.
Think the fundraisers are like anything you’ve seen before? You’d be wrong. One of the most popular events in Morristown around the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is the Grand Marshal’s on Tap evening. Held every year at Grasshopper Irish Pub, this year’s Grand Marshal, Father Patrick O’Donovan, of Notre Dame Mount Carmel Church in Cedar Knolls, was pouring drinks throughout the night to help raise funds for the parade.
Another popular fundraiser is that of the Publicity Tour. The tour took place on Feb. 22 and included nothing but music and fun. The committee visited each sponsor of the parade and brought with it a bagpipe band and Irish step dancers. The committee puts this event on each year to help bring awareness to the local merchants that the parade is coming up very soon.
The committee also sells pins and magnets each year to commemorate the parade. Magnets and pins are sold by various Morris County businesses. There is also a parade journal and sponsorships for local businesses.
Mike Leavy, a member of the parade committee, has been marching in the parade since he was a little boy. He now carries on the tradition with his son marching alongside him.
“Morristown has a very Irish history and parts are named after places in Ireland. There is such history of Ireland in Morristown. Here we are today still celebrating Saint Patrick and a holiday that means a lot to me and the Irish people as a whole. I’m proud to march in it but I was always proud to watch it as a youngster.” Leavy said.
A parade to honor Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t complete without the addition of the coveted pipe and drum bands, high school marching bands, fire trucks, police cruisers, and local and county dignitaries. The Morristown Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is Morris County’s largest Saint Patrick’s Day celebration.
“We have had bands from as far away as Boston and Baltimore each year. We even have bands who have nothing to do with Irish music that just enjoy the atmosphere in Morristown.” Brian Carroll, another parade committee member, said.
“The parade itself is always exciting. It’s a great family day. The parade is far reaching throughout the entire county. It’s local, but it’s got a reach that a lot of smaller parades don’t have. It’s a family flair and a local flair that you won’t find anywhere else.” Murphy said.
One thing that the committee prides itself on is the alcohol-free celebration atmosphere at the parade. Parade day begins with a 10:00 a.m. mass to honor St. Patrick at Assumption Church. The parade is set to step off at noon. The event is family friendly, from 0-100. Pre-parade activities include arts and crafts, music performances and more.
“It’s an alcohol-free parade and it’s a great time. It’s family friendly, the people participating in it love it. It’s everything you can think of about celebrating being Irish or just enjoying the Irish heritage. Get here early enough and get your spot, the bands are booming from beginning to end.” Leavy said.
The 2019 Grand Marshal is Father Patrick “Paddy” O’Donovan. The pastor of Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Church in Cedar Knolls is thrilled to be selected as the Grand Marshal.
Father O’Donovan was born and raised in Bruff, County Limerick, Ireland. He studied at Saint Patrick National School and Saint Muchins College, Limerick before completing his studies for the priesthood at Saint Patrick College, Carlow. He was ordained on June 10, 1972 in the Cathedral of the Assumption in Carlow and celebrated his fist mass in his home parish SS. Peter and Paul in Bruff.
Father O’Donovan came to the United States shortly after he was ordained, serving as parochial vicar at Saint Joseph’s Parish in Newton. He also taught theology part time at Pope John High School. Father O’Donovan received his Master’s Degree in Education from Fordham University in 1979. Before becoming the pastor of Notre Dame of Mount Carmel Church, he was the pastor of Christ the King Church in New Vernon.
Looking for some tips for parade day? Best places to watch the parade include by the Morristown Green which is where you will find the grandstand. Other popular viewing areas include anywhere along South Street and Washington Street. The parade ends at Morristown High School and roughly runs for about two hours.
“It really is just a great day,” Leavy said. “If you can get into town before the parade starts and you get a good spot, it’s a great time. We’ve had crowds as big as 55,000 at this parade. If the weather is great, the sky is the limit as to how many people will come out.”
The parade is held rain (or should we say snow?) or shine. When a crazy snowstorm blew through Morristown last year, the parade’s faithful followers still came out with whipping winds and bitter cold temperatures to honor the patron saint of Ireland, armed with blankets and layers of clothes.
“We have a ton of families who line the parade route and the groups we have marching in the parade and our pre parade activities are always geared toward families. I think it’s one of the biggest events in Morris County throughout the year. Our family aspect is what really sets as apart.” Arthur Flynn, another committee member, said.
Each year, the parade donates much of its funds back into the Morris County community and beyond. Past recipients of monies include Morristown High School Project Graduation, the Brendan Tevlin Foundation, Employment Horizons, the Interfaith Food Pantry, Family Promise, Dress for Success, and the Anne Hennessey Fund among others.
Make sure to mark your calendars for the 40th Annual Morris County Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, stepping off at noon in Morristown on March 9th.