March 15, 2011
Although I missed both last month’s Utah Hibernian Society fundraiser for its annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities along with its ever-popular "Blessing of the Keg" ritual last Friday, there was no way in Purgatory that I would not have shown up for the annual St. Paddy’s Day parade this past Saturday down at the Gateway in Salt Lake.
Our modus operandi played out the same as usual. With time being of the essence, as is most often the case, it became imperative to hot-foot it down the meandering parade route through Gateway’s gauntlet of trendy shops to the parade’s starting point behind West High School at 200 North and 400 West.
I’m not exactly sure why, but going to the source in these matters somehow plays out like a backstage pass. It’s something that came to light years ago when I first discovered that the best vantage point for Park City’s Fourth of July parade was actually Carole Fontana’s deck overlooking Swede Alley.
What you get from perspectives such as these are insights into the organizational aspects of the individual parade entries and the preparations they require to perform well. In the case of St. Paddy’s Day parades, these arrangements usually require that entrants are constantly primed, as it were, with a liquid component.
And it is by joining in with this ritualized behavior that one is able, whether actually genetically tied to the "auld sod" or not, to become awash in an amount of "balderdash" sufficient to the occasion. Suffice to say, before long, each year on the Saturday of or previous to March 17, this intersection becomes a rather "blarney-rich" environment.
So, after a quick check-in with Walk and Mary Perry and their brace of parade-tested Irish wolfhounds at the front of the procession, it was off to homestead some nearby street-side space for the event itself and play a bit of catch-up as far as acquiring a coefficient-of-priming equal to the neighbors.
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Although organizers were constantly attempting to keep overanxious entrants from making their move too soon, the spacing between the floats, vintage fire trucks, pipe bands, rock bands, Celtic dancers, green-clad clans, politicians, antique cars, hot rods, wolfhounds, basset hounds, clowns, leprechauns and such kept fluctuating like an accordion.
Over-the-top humor was once again in the house, and not just with the SLPD Harley-Davidson motorcycle drill team. Riding, as always, under the handicap of sobriety, especially when those around you are marching to what might best be termed a geometrically-challenged drummer, is no mean feat.
Those participating entries that were having as much fun as those along the route were the best in show, of course. The Disgusting Brothers band, with its 30-year legacy of rockin’ the free world for a variety of non-profits, certainly fit that bill, as did MacNamara’s Band, another fun-lovin’ usual suspect at these get-togethers.
As entertaining as the parade proves to be year after year, it is the after-party, the "Siamsa," held the past couple of years in the Grand Hall of the Union Pacific Depot and the adjacent patio area, which truly raises the "bar," so to speak. This is where corned beef and Guinness and traditional Celtic instrumentation get to "know" each other in the Biblical sense.
Hopefully, the Hibernian Society of Utah will be able to solve the ongoing funding problems that arose last year when the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) reduced their support. During these times of apocalyptic disasters, diversions such as Salt Lake City’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade fulfill, at least in my case, a valuable mental-health function.
Word also has it that, in order to help balance their books, the Society has already cut back on its contributions to the Ulster Project, which brings both Catholic and Protestant Irish youth to the United States in order to increase cultural and religious tolerance. And, even though the Society’s annual dues are only $25 for individuals and $40 for families, dwindling membership has also become a factor.
Park City has deep and longtime ties to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Utah through Father Pat Carley, past pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, host for many years of the St. Patrick’s Day parties at the Elk’s Lodge on Main Street, and founder of the Hibernian Society of Utah.
So have a safe and sane St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow everybody. Now there’s an oxymoron!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.