St. Paddy's Parade spirit warms hearts on frigid day

Members of the Philadelphia Emerald Society lead the Annual St Patrick’s Day Parade in Philadelphia on Sunday March 12, 2017.

Roving packs of friendly, feel-no-pain pub crawlers boosted Sunday’s freeze-challenged St. Patrick's Day Parade crowds, gathering outside watering holes along the route from City Hall down East Market Street to cheer three hours of Irish bands, dancers, bagpipers, drummers, and green-clad celebrants of all ages.

It was a great day for thousands of Emerald Isle ancestors, from the Civil War re-enactors of the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Volunteers, to Philly cop Kim Miller and her daughter Maggie, 13, who prayed for the safety of all police, to Miriam Sands, 84, bundled against the cold at Fifth and Market, waiting with three generations of family to see her sister Natalie Smith, 81, march with Port Richmond’s Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 87.

Sands marched until a couple of years ago, when a hip and two knee replacements sidelined her.

Smith’s daughter, Margie Deeney, said the St. Paddy’s parade is a celebration of family as well as of Irish culture, adding that the Sandes’ after party would feature her homemade shepherd’s pie, beef stew, ham and cabbage, and spinach lasagna – “It’s green, get it?” she said laughing – and her Aunt Miriam’s “best Irish potatoes in Philadelphia.”

One of the most poignant embodiments of the 2017 parade’s “St. Patrick, Protect and Guide our Police Officers” theme was the float carrying 28-year Philadelphia police veteran Kim Miller, whose husband, University of Pennsylvania Officer Ed Miller, was wounded last year during a gunman’s West Philadelphia shooting rampage.

The float was decorated like a bedroom, and Miller’s daughter Maggie, 13, knelt before St. Patrick and St. Michael the Archangel, patron saint of police officers, praying for her parents’ safe return.

“When you are a police officer,” Maggie said, “you can get hurt easily."

“Our biggest worry on a daily basis is coming home safe,” her mother said. “My husband was a Philadelphia police officer for 35 years, came home safe every day, retired as a sergeant, went to Penn as an officer for two years, and got shot. You never know.”

The float was created by the Officer Daniel Boyle, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 88.  Boyle was a 21-year-old rookie cop in 1991 when he was murdered by a street thug.

Capt. Scott Eller, leader of the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Volunteers, all 20 of whom were dressed as 1861-1865 Union soldiers, said the 90 re-enactors in his unit “keep the memory alive of the Irish who fought in the Civil War.”

Eller said that donations at his group’s band concerts and re-enactment fund-raisers pay for researching old burial records, locating the unmarked graves of 19th-century Irish soldiers, and providing gravestones and a memorial service for each of them.

“We’ve located 487 unmarked graves in West and Northeast Philadelphia and in Yeadon,” Eller said, and have provided gravestones and a memorial service for 76 of them. 

He said the families of most of the Civil War Irish soldiers were probably too poor to afford gravestones at the time.  “These Irish soldiers have been forgotten for 150 years but they will not be forgotten anymore,” he said.