Irish Eyes smile on Alaska's only St. Patricks Day parade

For 22 years Soldotna has hosted the only St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Alaska thanks to their patron leprechaun St. Michael of Sweeney. For more than a thousand years March 17th, has been the traditional date to celebrate the feast of Ireland’s Patron Saint who died during the fifth century. St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle and having explained the Holy Trinity with the three leaves of an Irish Clover or shamrock. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade however traces its origins to the British Colonies later to be known as the United States where on March 17th, 1762, Irish Soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City along with their Irish music. The parade helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots as well as with fellow Irishmen serving in the English army.

The roots of the Soldotna parade had a slightly different motivation according to Michael Sweeney, “At that time we had a merchants committee at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and we were working on ideas to promote the town and about five or six of us on the committee decided on a St. Patrick’s Day parade and it has worked very well regardless of the weather, as long as you don’t want to keep your car clean, it’s grown every year and is always a lot of fun,” explained Sweeney for the Dispatch. The parade seems to have had the desired effect of encouraging shoppers, as after the parade on a perfect sunny Sunday, Fred Myers was totally sold out of cabbage. “I think it was the biggest parade ever, it may have been a bit cool but the sun was shinning and the Irish eyes were smiling,” said Sweeney as the parade got underway complete with a black Scotty named Rocco dressed up with a green color, “Everybody is Irish today, even Scotties, and we’ll be riding on the Diamond M Ranch 4-H float because his legs are a little short,” said Terri Butcher of Soldotna who is “owned” by Rocco.

The Tom and Sonja Redmond family has been in almost all of the Soldotna’s St. Patrick’s Day parades and Sunday had three generations dressed in green and passing out candy to kids watching the parade, “It’s a perfect day for a parade and we look forward to this every year, it’s really fun when so many people turn out,” said Sonja who was accompanied by her daughter Shona DeVold and granddaughters Anna and Sara. While no official records have been kept Sweeney felt that it was undoubtedly the largest parade ever. More than 100 St. Patrick’s Day parades are held across the United States; New York and Boston are home to the largest celebrations.