Why St. Patrick’s Day is so big in Savannah, Georgia

Southern Kitchen staff
The Forsyth Park Fountain in Savannah

After two years without a parade and one year without a grand marshal, the Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade will once again take over the scenic Georgia city, with Chatham Tax Commissioner Danny Powers as grand marshal.

The Guinness will flow, the fountain in Forsyth Park will be dyed green and post-parade festivities will unfurl along River Street. 

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At more than 200 years old, Savannah’s St. Patrick’s celebration is one of the largest in the country

Irish roots run deep in Savannah, as well as in the rest of the state of Georgia. The Irish were among some of the first settlers to arrive in the new colony in 1734. Along with being some of the first people granted land, the Irish had their hand in shaping the colony and boosting the economy in the South.

St. Patrick's Day parade

By the early 1800s, a large population of working-class Irish were living in Savannah, and a large population had settled between Augusta and Savannah across 15,000 acres of land, which is now the city of Louisville. 

The Irish continued seeking work around Savannah, and they found it easily, as there was a great demand for help to build the canals, ports and, later, the railroad. The last, and largest, migration of the Irish came as Ireland was facing one of its most tragic moments in history: the Great Famine in the mid 1800s.

Savannah Irish Festival

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Their descendants, by and large, live in a more prosperous time. Savannah's robust Irish population now celebrates its heritage in style. St. Patrick's Day is Savannah's biggest event of the year, attracting as many as half a million people every year to the city, according to estimates from a 2018 Georgia Southern University study

This year, the city has approved a few notable changes to the post-parade festival, including issuing no permits for live music stages, food tents or beer tents.

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The St. Patrick's Day Parade begins promptly at 10:15 a.m. on March 17. Read more here, from the Savannah Morning News

Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub

For parade-goers, Savannah’s Irish pubs have much to offer. The Rail Pub and Molly MacPherson’s Pub and Grill are hubs for karaoke and whiskey.

After studying abroad in Ireland, former Southern Kitchen visuals editor Romano King knows what a true Irish pub looks like, and she said Molly MacPherson’s transports her back to Ireland. 

“The look and feel of Molly MacPherson’s pub and grill reminds me the most of what you’re going to find in Ireland,” she said. “It reminds me the most of Temple Bar. You’re crowded by a lot of people and surrounded by lots of types of liquor.”

And for a true authentic Guinness, there’s only one place to go: O’Connell’s. “Their Guinness is true to how you’ll find a Guinness in Ireland,” King said. “They know how to pour a Guinness like how a Guinness should be poured.” 

As for the parade, it's handled by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, an all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization. Since 1824, the committee has organized and presented special events leading up to and including the parade.

As such, the committee's website is the best source for up-to-date info on the parade: https://savannahsaintpatricksday.com.

Will Peebles, Savannah Morning News, contributed to this story.