Nineteen years ago when Mike Sweeney decided to have a St. Patrick's Day Parade down the Sterling Highway some may have thought it was an eccentric idea coming in the middle of March which can still be the middle of winter on the Kenai Peninsula. But given the luck of the Irish in a community that loves a parade the weather has never been a deterrent and the popularity of the event has continued to grow. From its original route down the Sterling Highway the parade has moved to the Kenai Spur Highway from Bailey's Furniture Store to the "Y" in Soldotna. "It may not be the longest parade in the state, but it seems to be the only St. Patrick's Day Parade in Alaska, and is always a lot of fun for participants and spectators," says Sweeney. The St. Patrick's Day celebration in Soldotna isn't limited to the short parade, but is followed by other events around town that include a traditional corn beef and cabbage dinner served up at the Senior Citizens Center, and a variety of other activities and parties including green beer and live music at Hooligan's and St. Elias Brewing Co.
Warm sunny skies greeted the parade Wednesday, causing tops to go down on the convertibles and green shirt sleeves to replace the parkas. The highway and curbs may have been a bit wet and muddy, but that didn't keep the kids from scrambling for the candy that was tossed by the parade participants. The Peninsula Clarion joined the parade and celebrated a free press by handing out free newspapers to the hundreds that lined the highway to see the parade. "It was really great to be joined by many of the same folks like the Clarion and Paul Gray that were in the original parade 19 years ago, that makes today really special," said Sweeney. Also joining in this year's St. Patrick's Day parade were Girl Scouts Women in the Arts, and the Boy Scouts celebrating their 100th Anniversary. Even the mayor of Soldotna changed his name for the day to McMicciche, "I think that was the way it was probably spelled when they landed at Elis Island, but today everyone is Irish anyway and we hope the leprechauns will all spend their pots of gold right here in Soldotna. The best part about being mayor is being in parades with my family and friends," said the Mayor.
Following the parade a long line started gathering outside the Soldotna Senior Center for the sold out corn beef and cabbage dinner prepared by Chef Paul Axtmenn of Kasilof. Inside Irish eyes were smiling as a special trio treated everyone to traditional Irish songs during their dinner.
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