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Four parades, a wedding and a robbery

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 15, 2012 - Every several years, the Irish and the Irish-loving have a decision to make in St. Louis -- which parade for St. Patrick’s Day?

This is one of those years.

In 2012, St. Pat’s falls on a Saturday, and the metro has not one, but four area parades to choose from. (The reason: The Dogtown parade is always on St. Pat’s day, and the downtown parade is always on a Saturday.)

But for the first time in 22 years, the corkscrew-haired dancers of Clarkson School of Irish Dance won’t be at any of them.

One year ago, the school was offered a site in Jefferson County to store its  supplies. In late September, the flatbed truck that held those supplies -- PVC piping, the bits of cottages and castles and boats that have made up the school’s floats each year -- was stolen.

“We were just crushed,” says Mary Clarkson, director and principal instructor at the school. “And I kept thinking it would show up, but it did not.”

After all, what would someone want with old sets and large signs advertising the school? Maybe firewood to sell, one undercover cop told Clarkson.

So, without the funds or time to pull a new float together, the students at Clarkson won’t be in any of the parades.

They will, however, be in shows all over the area that day.

And like those dancers and those from other Irish dance schools around St. Louis (some of whom will be in the parades,) you can stay pretty busy on Saturday, depending on what you’re looking for on St. Patrick’s Day.

Dogtown does a wedding

Amy Magee Lynch has been in the Ancient Order of HiberniansSt. Patrick’s Day Parade since she was 3 months old.

But she’s never been in it as a bride.

This year, Lynch and her fiancee, Scott Martin, will get married just before the parade starts at 11:30 a.m. Then, the couple, their wedding party (all in kilts) and their green, white and orange float will join the parade.

“Normally, it’s a big production for us to do the float for the parade,” says Lynch’s mother, Dee Magee. “And this year it’s also do the dress and the flowers and the reception.”

As the newlyweds glide down the parade route on float 17, they’ll perform a traditional Irish hand fasting ceremony, and after, they’ll celebrate at their reception with Irish music and corned beef and cabbage.

This is the 29th year for the parade, says Jim Mohan, with the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. The parade, run by the Hibernians, split off all those years ago from the Downtown parade.

“There are a multitude of stories why the parade got started,” Mohan says, “and I’ll say they’re all probably true.”

One reason was that some of the Hibernians back then were involved in supporting Irish Northern Aid, and the downtown parade wasn't OK with advertising that support. So the group split off to have its own parade, first in Clayton, then in Hazlewood, then eventually choosing Dogtown and deciding that it would always be on St. Patrick’s Day, not necessarily on the weekend.

The Dogtown parade is a family parade, Mohan says, that celebrates Irish heritage and culture, with family clans riding on their own floats.

The parade begins at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. This year's grand marshal is Hall of Fame football player Jackie Smith. More than 100 units will begin down Tamm and Oakland and end at Tamm and Manchester.

Throughout the parade, Lynch and her new husband will celebrate their wedding with everyone present, adding another tradition to their St. Patrick's Day, Magee says.

"It's really special for all of us."

Small towns, big parades

Four years ago, Cottleville firefighter Tom Smoot and a few friends pulled the first Cottleville St. Patrick's Day Paradeand run together in six weeks.

Now, the parade offers St. Charles County more than 100 floats, 2,000 runners and between 30,000 and 50,000 attendees.

"We don't like to compete with them," Smoot says of the metro's other two big parades.

"We're often thought of as another option for people who live out in this area."

The parade starts at Cottleville Parkway and Weiss Road, kicks off at noon and for the first time this year, you can grab a shuttle at three locations, Warren Elementary School, St. Charles Community College and Francis Howell Central High School, to get to the parade site. Smoot hopes that will help keep the surrounding neighborhoods from getting too crowded.

"We want to be a good neighbor to these people," he says.

Belleville also has a St. Patrick's Day Parade, its 10th annual, which is run by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. This year's parade begins at 11 a.m. and will feature music and a flag raising.

Downtown does it big

The downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade is the oldest in town -- in its 43rd year, says Sue Morton, chairperson for the parade, with the annual run in its 34th year.

And she expects this year will be a big one.

“We have sold out the number of units that can be in the parade this year,” Morton says.

On a good day, the downtown parade, which starts at 18th and Market streets and makes its way down Market to Broadway, can attract more than 300,000 people.

“We like to call ours a family-friendly event as well,” she says, and yes, it also includes big impact. This year, there will be more than 5,000 marchers and 120 units, including floats, bands and giant balloons.

Leading this year’s parade are parade founder and St. Louis Irish Consul Joseph McGlynn Jr.; Irish guest of honor Sen. Mark Daly, who is a member of the Irish Parliament; plus Mayor Francis Slay and County Executive Charlie Dooley. Th Irish Village at Kiener Plaza will have food and drink, and new to the event this year is Kid City, with special activities for children.

Because so many people like to attend both parades, and because many floats and performers do, too, both the downtown parade and the Dogtown parade changed their schedules a bit to accommodate them, Morton says.

The downtown parade begins at 11:30, an hour earlier than Dogtown.

The next time St. Louis will have to choose between the two biggest parades will be in 2018, when St. Patrick's Day once again falls on a Saturday.

For this year, Morton thinks there’s enough Irish love in St. Louis to go around.

“I believe St. Louis and the Irish community are large enough to handle all the parades,” she says.

"It's right up there with the Cardinals' home opener. It's a very big holiday."