In Northeastern Pennsylvania, St. Patrick’s parades are about pride — pride in tradition, community, culture and heritage.
Residents and visitors of the region’s two largest cities will wear their pride, and perhaps their finest green shirts, this weekend when Scranton holds its annual St. Patrick’s Parade on Saturday and Wilkes-Barre follows with its yearly St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday.
The Scranton soiree, which is the larger and longer-running affair, begins, as it does every year, with a 10 a.m. Mass Saturday at St. Peter’s Cathedral on Wyoming Avenue. The Brian P. Kelly memorial 2-mile footrace starts at 11 a.m. in front of the Scranton Cultural Center on North Washington Avenue, and the parade steps off at 11:45 a.m., led by Grand Marshal Thomas J. Langan.
With over 12,000 participants each year, the Scranton parade is the second largest of its kind in the U.S., according to the event’s website.
This year’s gathering will feature 11 pipe bands and eight high school bands.
“The big attraction this year is a Navy band out of Rhode Island,” Scranton St. Patrick’s Parade Committee President Jim McLaughlin said. “This was a big draw this year; they’re nationally known.”
For patrons who’d care to take their fun off the street, the Scranton Cultural Center will also offer entertainment.
“They’ll have a couple of pipe bands come in there,” McLaughlin said. “They have their own band that plays throughout the day, and they stop when the pipe bands come in. They’ll have Irish step dancers throughout the day as well. That’s a very family-oriented atmosphere. You’ll get anyone from 2 to 80.”
Those who prefer the pub-and-pint atmosphere can enjoy Parade Day Lager, a beer crafted for the city by Flying Fish Brewery, which McLaughlin says will be on tap at “a number of bars and restaurants” in the downtown area.
“That’s brand new this year,” he noted.
Grand Marshal Langan, a south side Scranton native and committee member for over 30 years, has seen many new additions to the festivities during his tenure.
“We have over 100 some members,” said Langan, 75, of Archbald. “I remember when we only had four or five. We used to meet downtown right across from the Masonic temple.”
Langan, reflecting on how far the committee and the event have come since producing all the parade mailings by hand, said he’s honored to be grand marshal.
“It means a lot to me,” he said.
He’s also encouraged by the influx of young people interested in serving in the organization.
“All these kids, I went out with them, and they’re all level-headed businessmen, a lot of lawyers,” Langan said. “It’s unreal how they’re coming out and supporting this group.”
Wilkes-Barre’s day of celebration begins at 10 a.m. Sunday with the start of the annual Renal Race, which supports efforts to eradicate kidney cancer. Potential racers can register beginning at 8 a.m. Parade marchers will start to line up at 1 p.m. for the 2 p.m. step-off, led by Fire Chief and Grand Marshal Jay Delaney.
“We have approximately 80 groups participating and that totals about 1,200 participants including people marching, driving in cars —lots of smiling faces,” said Tyler Ryan, executive assistant to Mayor Tony George.
Out of the marching organizations, Special Events Coordinator Patty Hughes pointed out, five are pipe and drum bands; three are high school bands from GAR, Meyers and Coughlin; two are local bands —Donnybrook Band and Three Imaginary Boys — and four represent local dance academies.
“Clydesdale horses will be in the parade this year with a stage coach, and that will be by Express Employment Professionals,” Hughes said of a particular draw this year.
Another noteworthy addition, the NAACP Wilkes-Barre Youth Council will participate for the first time, Hughes said. The NEPA Bird Gang will drive a float down Main Street in celebration of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl victory, and the NEPA Military Vehicle Collectors Association will showcase vehicles from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm.
“We have the Keystone State (Squad) Imperial Outlanders,” Hughes continued. “They’ll be dressed like various ‘Star Wars’ characters.”
Ryan said the parade bolsters the local economy by bringing NEPA residents and visitors from other regions out to Wilkes-Barre restaurants, bars and hotels.
“Kids enjoy it, and adults have a really good time,” Ryan said. “With everything going on in the world, it’s just nice to celebrate.”
Ryan, who has known Delaney since she was a child, said the grand marshal goes above and beyond his role as fire chief in his service to Wilkes-Barre.
For Delaney, the honor is a culmination of those years of service, but his career is the furthest thing from his thoughts when he reflects on the appointment.
“The first thing that comes to mind is my family, and my family’s Irish heritage and their values,” Delaney said. “All of those who came here from Ireland, hopefully they’re in a better place, looking down and saying, ‘Wow, this is a big thing for our family.”
While Delaney is proud of his heritage and the way his family and friends choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day — as more of a religious observation than a party — he also recognizes the value of a region that knows how to embrace all of its cultures and rich histories.
“I look past Wilkes-Barre, and I look at Pittston,” Delaney said. “They had their parade last weekend, and many of my friends took part in that. I feed off of what happened there. My good friend, the Scranton Fire Chief Pat Desarno, he’ll march with us, and he’ll participate in Scranton’s parade the day before.
“People in Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Pittston all know what halushki is. We all are familiar with each other’s heritages. My family brought me up on the principals that we treat other people the way you want to be treated. A lot of different people came here a long time ago. Politically, you see the debate over different cultures, but here in Wilkes-Barre, we’re a very diverse people and, for the most part, from what I’ve seen personally, we’re very respectful of each other.”
Through his years of service and citizenship, Delaney has marched in a number of St. Patrick’s parades, and he’s seen the Wilkes-Barre parade develop much as Langan has seen the Scranton event evolve.
“It keeps getting bigger and better,” Delaney said. “As I marched for many of my years of participation, when you walk up South Main Street and look at the kids with smiles on their faces, dressed in green, there’s no better family event that the city does. It’s a great thing to see.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
Road closures for Wilkes-Barre parade
Drivers are advised that South Main Street from Public Square to Hazle Street will be closed from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. The following roads will also be closed in that time frame:
South Main Street from Dana Street through Public Square
North Main Street from Public Square to Union Street
First blocks of Hazle and Ross streets from South Franklin and South Washington Streets, including Pennsylvania Avenue
South Street from South Franklin Street to South Washington Street
East Northampton Street from South Franklin Street to South Washington Street
East Market Street from South Washington Street to Public Square
West Market Street from South Franklin Street to Public Square
There will be “no parking” notices posted along the parade route. Vehicles will be ticketed and towed beginning at 1 p.m. To avoid towing and fines, parade patrons are advised to adhere to both public and private “no parking” zones.