They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day and, indeed, everyone is invited to join the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick (FSoSP) March 17 as they celebrate the Emerald Isle’s patron saint in the streets of Mobile.
FSoSP’s 67th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration will begin with the raising of the ancestral Irish flag at Ryan Park on Springhill Avenue and end (for the public, at least) with a parade downtown. The annual event is one of the ways FSoSP continues to promote and celebrate Irish culture in Mobile.
“It’s a way to celebrate the Irish heritage and comradery — the Irish harmony,” Bob Maceluch, vice president of Mobile’s FSoSP, told Lagniappe. “The Irish, as a community, they become Americans, but they keep their heritage. There are certainly other groups who do the same, but ask most any Irish and they are going to tell you which country their ancestors came from. They keep that connection.”
While Irish immigration to the United States goes back as far as the original 13 colonies, the infamous potato blight that decimated Irish crops in the mid-1800s drove massive numbers across the Atlantic. It is estimated that as many as 4.5 million Irish arrived in the U.S. between 1820 and 1930.
Clay Bedford, president of Mobile’s FSoSP, said that shared history of immigrating under duress and the challenges of building a life in a new country helped solidify Irish culture in the U.S. He believes it’s one of the reasons many Americans continue to cling to their Irish roots several generations later.
“For many Irish, it wasn’t that they wanted to leave, but they had to leave to survive. Coming over here was not an easy task, either,” Bedford said. “It was difficult for them to find jobs. There were a lot of places Irish weren’t welcomed, though a lot of people weren’t welcomed in those times.”
Mobile’s annual celebration of St. Patrick began when the local chapter of FSoSP was founded in 1953 by a group of charter members, who included John Tomey and Archbishop Thomas Joseph Toolen.
Today, the group boasts more than 300 members, according to Maceluch. And though it’s nondenominational, the Archdiocese of Mobile and McGill-Toolen still have prominent roles. In the days leading up to the event, FSoSP’s “leprechauns” also visit area nursing homes to perform Irish songs.
On March 17, festivities will begin at 9 a.m. with the flag raising at Ryan Park, followed by a public mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at 10 a.m. led by Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi. There will also be a brief concert featuring the McGill-Toolen marching band afterward.
The parade itself will begin at 11 a.m. and proceed from the cathedral down Dauphin Street to the Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel on Royal Street. This year’s grand marshal will be Rev. Edward Connick, former chaplain of the Mobile Police and Fire-Rescue departments, who has been a member of FSoSP for 45 years.
After the parade, FSoSP will host its “Drowning the Shamrocks” happy hour event at the Battle House followed by its annual meeting and banquet — both of which are closed to the public. More information about this and other FSoSP events is available on the group’s Facebook page.
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