STORY WRITTEN BY M. ENGLISH
For Digital First Media
The Blessed Mother statues are in the window to ensure good weather (it’s a Catholic thing), multiple fingers are crossed (in case Mary is sidetracked by other requests), and the writing is on the wall: This year’s Ancient Order of Hibernians’ St. Patrick’s Parade in Conshohocken – scheduled for March 12 at 2 p.m. – will likely attract 15-20,000 revelers looking to extol the glories of the green.
“A Lil Bit O’ Blarney” is the theme for 2016’s popular celebration of all things Irish – its 10th anniversary in Conshohocken – but the 350-plus-members of Swedesburg-based AOH Notre Dame Division 1 and Ladies AOH Notre Dame Division 2 who run the parade cut right to the chase when asked what attendees can expect.
“The AOH motto is Friendship, Unity and Christian Charity, and this parade…this opportunity for people to come together like this…is a wonderful reflection of that,” Parade Chairman Jim Gallagher says. “Irish or not, everyone is welcome.”
“Conshohocken is such a gracious host,” Gallagher continues. “The restaurants in town set up on the sidewalk, you have all kinds of vendors, all the music … it’s impossible to show up for this and not have a good time. It warms your heart. Our first year in Conshy, we had 70 degree weather and people five deep on the sidewalk — a good omen for what has followed.”
Grand marshal for 2016 is John Tobin, a retired Norristown policeman and private investigator whose involvement with AOH-Notre Dame goes back to its roots in Norristown during the early 1990s when “families like the Cahills, Cunnanes, Bradleys, Johnsons, Shields(es) and McKernans got together and (established) this great organization that’s still going strong.”
“I’m the sixth police officer to be grand marshal, the fourth from Norristown, and I’m so honored to be part of this proud heritage,” Tobin says.
The Norristown man is just as proud of the two little Irishmen who will escort “pop-pop” on his march down Fayette Street – four-year-old twin grandsons Max and Alex, the children of daughter Jennifer and her husband Geoffrey Hoffman.
“Alex wanted to practice before the parade, so the three of us have already marched around the old Montgomery Hospital,” says Tobin, whose family also consists of wife Beth and son and daughter-in-law Jeffrey and Claudia, both master sergeants with the U.S. Air Force at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base. “That was something, but they’re going to love marching in the real thing. Conshohocken does such a great job with this parade.”
Agreed, says fellow AOH mover and shaker Pete Hand.
“We really appreciate the way the town puts out the welcome mat for us,” Hand says. “It’s grown every year since we started there. People come by train, bus — it attracts them from all over. The bands love it, too. Of course, our band, Irish Thunder Pipes and Drums, will be there. But most of the bands we’ve had over the years are returning, and we’ve picked up some new ones. Just cross your fingers for good weather. There’s no rain date this year because of Easter being early, so we’re hoping for the best.”
Tobin will inherit his grand marshal sash and walking stick from 2015 honoree Mick McBride during March 5’s Grand Marshal’s Ball at Elmwood Park Zoo. AOH’s yearly Irish Coffee Contest at the group’s social hall, 342 Jefferson Street, follows on March 10 (doors open at 6 p.m.).
On March 12, Fayette Street’s macadam will get another pre-parade warm-up courtesy of the Third Annual Conshohocken St. Paddy’s Day 5K Classic. Registration will begin at 11 a.m. at Conshohocken Fire Company No. 2, 819 Fayette Street. The run-walk, co-sponsored by Bryn Mawr Racing Company, is set to begin at 1 p.m. and is a benefit for the fire company and the Philadelphia Distance Run Scholarship Fund.
A number of bands in the AOH parade will start the day in Delaware County in the annual parade hosted by that area’s St. Patrick’s Parade Committee and Greater Springfield Business Association. The line of march begins at noon at Springfield High School on Leamy Avenue and proceeds along Springfield Road to Saxer Avenue before ending at the intersection of Saxer Avenue and Powell Road.
The region celebrates
Also scheduled for March 12, the 28th Annual Bucks County St. Patrick’s Day Parade, set to head down New Falls Road in Levittown at 10:30 a.m. In addition, the Bucks County St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee sponsors a Miss Irish competition for high school girls.
Elsewhere in Bucks County, the Pennridge Chamber of Commerce and Perkasie and Sellersville Boroughs will host the area’s Second Annual Pennridge St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Celtic Festival in Sellersville on March 12. The parade is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. at South Middle School and end at noon in the picnic grove behind Sellersville Fire House. The festival will feature a Men’s Best Legs in a Kilt contest, music, dancing, games, food and a variety of vendors from noon until 5 p.m.
A few other ways to get your Irish on:
March 12 – Narberth Business Association’s Great Narberth Leprechaun Hunt is planned for 1 to 4 p.m. or until the prizes run out. The family-friendly event will begin and end at NBA’s Blarney Booth on the corner of Haverford and Forrest avenues. Participants will receive a game card with clues and a black plastic “pot-o’-gold” before searching for 10 hidden leprechauns. Each sighting earns a gold-wrapped chocolate coin, and 10 chocolates earn a gold U.S. dollar coin.
March 13 – A St. Patrick’s Day 5K will take place on the old runway at Warminster Community Park (formerly, Johnsville Naval Air Station). Race time is 10 to 11:15 a.m. (registration at 9 a.m.). Runners are “encouraged” to wear green and meet at Tony’s Place in Ivyland after the event.
March 19 – The Women’s Auxiliary at Chester County Hospital will host its 10th annual St. Patty’s Day Beef-Beer-Boogie at West Chester Golf & Country Club. The CCH benefit is set to begin at 7 p.m. and feature “traditional Irish fare and spirit,” live music and dancing. Tickets are $45, and RSVPs are required by March 11. Additional details are posted at www.chestercountyhospital.org.
March 20 – Participants in Schuylkill Canal Association’s St. Patty’s Day Hike and Treasure Hunt will gather in the parking lot behind Pickering Creek Inn in Phoenixville at 1 p.m. before walking to the Lock 60 picnic grove for a gold coin scramble. The coins will be redeemable for prizes at the site’s Locktender’s House.
Not surprisingly, loads of suburban bars and restaurants have already begun spreading St. Patrick’s Day craic with Celtic music and endless varieties of Irish culinary fare and beverages. Not a fan of beer with green food coloring? Suds tinted with a blend of antioxidant-rich matcha, a powdered green tea, and a bit of water are currently big on the Tokyo bar scene. Prefer wine? Penns Wood Winery in Chadds Ford, for one, plans to serve green wine (in honor of “St. Pinot”) March 17-20 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Several establishments have also planned St. Baldrick’s Day events to raise funds for pediatric cancer.
Can’t find St. Baldrick in your “Lives of the Saints”?
Basically, the moniker is a play on the shaved (bald) heads that power such events and the second syllable of March 17’s iconic saint. In short, volunteers sacrifice their crowning glory in exchange for donations to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, established in 2004 to raise money for childhood cancer research grants – so far, listed as some $178 million at www.stbaldricks.org.
Longtime Irish music venue – Brittingham’s in Lafayette Hill – has scheduled its St. Baldrick’s session for March 13 at 1 p.m.
“Chris Morris will emcee, Seamus McGroary will entertain, and we’ll earn some money for a great cause,” spokesmen say.
Meanwhile, the restaurant’s namesakes and onetime owners took their Irish pride with them when they moved to the Caribbean in the 1990s. The gregarious Brittinghams initially opened a Gaelic eatery called Molly Molone’s in St. Thomas, USVI’s Red Hook section and, later, Jose O’Shay’s in the Dominican Republic. It might not be the Emerald Isle, but word has it the seaside bash at O’Shay’s in the D.R.’s Cabarete neighborhood continues to rock the beach every March 17. The crowd is international, but as AOL’s Jim Gallagher jokes: “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”
Also, the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade struts the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday, March 13. For detailed information, check www.philadelphiastpatsparade.com.