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New historical marker in Savannah honors roots of city’s 200-year-old St. Patrick’s Day parade

The 2023 St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah passes by the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist. (Credit: Benjamin Payne / GPB News)

Benjamin Payne, GPB News

With Savannah nearing the 200th anniversary next month of its popular St. Patrick’s Day parade, City Council on Thursday approved a new historical marker that commemorates the festivities’ origins.

No luck of the Irish was needed to pass the agenda item, as councilmembers voted unanimously to install the downtown landmark.

At first blush, 132 Montgomery St. might seem like a puzzling choice for its location: several blocks away from the parade’s current route — and right in front of a parking garage.

But, as the marker’s text explains:

On March 17, 1824, the first public St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah was held to and from this site where the city’s only Catholic house of worship, St. John the Baptist Church, was built in 1779.

This is not to be confused with the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist, which was built decades later a half-mile southeast, and which serves as the focal point of current-day parades.

The historical marker goes on to state that, at the now-gone St. John the Baptist Church:

The Bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, John England of Cork City, Ireland, addressed an Irish gathering of Catholics and Protestants. Later they marched to the City Hotel accompanied by a full band playing the Irish national airs and Hibernians carrying a flag displaying the Irish Harp with Shamrock border.

Bishop England’s words that day sparked the parade tradition. “May the example of Savannah be widely influential; here men who differ in religion may meet as friends and brethren; the acrimony of the bigot is not permitted to destroy the harmony of society.”

An unveiling ceremony for the historical marker is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m., followed by a procession tracing the parade’s inaugural route.

Although property of the city, the roughly $5,700 marker is being funded by the independently run Committee to Commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah, which submitted this design illustration in its application:

Illustrated mockup design of the historical marker

Credit: Committee to Commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah

This year’s parade will be held Saturday, March 16, beginning at approximately 10:15 a.m. from the corner of Abercorn and Gwinnett Streets.

This story comes to Savannah Sun Times through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

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