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'It's a tradition': 2,000-strong march in Allentown St. Patrick's Day parade

marchers in kilts with bagpipes
Ryan Gaylor
One of 10 pipe bands in this year's Allentown St. Patrick's Day parade march down Liberty Street Sunday afternoon.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Thousands of people clad in green lined the streets of Allentown on Sunday for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

More than 2,000 marchers wound through the West End, including 10 pipe bands, several more marching bands, Irish dance groups, restaurants, labor unions, fire companies, community groups and local businesses.

The sound of bagpipes, float-towing pickup trucks, fire engine sirens and children scrambling for thrown candy followed north on 19th Street from the Allentown Fairgrounds, west down Tilghman Street, south on 25th Street and back toward the fairgrounds on Liberty Street.

The parade brings thousands to the city each year to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. In Catholic tradition, Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century, becoming the Emerald Isle’s patron saint.

In the centuries since, his annual feast day – March 17, when he is said to have died – has become a celebration of Ireland itself, along with Irish culture in diaspora communities across the world.

“It’s a tradition, time-old, in the family to visit the St. Patrick’s parade every single year.”
Allentown resident Maggie Guinan

Allentown has been home to Irish immigrants since the mid-19th century. By 1900, the city’s Sixth Ward was the hub of a vibrant Irish community.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade began in 1955, when a group of residents formed an organization – the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Society – to oversee the celebrations.

Irish roots

Since its inception nearly 70 years ago, the parade has become a tradition for some families.

“I used to participate in the parade when I was in St. John Vianney Middle School,” said Maggie Guinan, from Allentown. “It’s a tradition, time-old, in the family to visit the St. Patrick’s parade every single year.”

“I haven't been here for years, and I remember coming here years ago and it was just such a blast,” said Macungie resident Linda Printz, who returned for Sunday’s parade after more than a decade. “Just the feeling of the people, the festivity.”

“I’m actually thinking we should … invite more family and make it more of an event every year,” she said.

“It definitely feels like a community,” said Juliann Printz, who experienced the parade for the first time. “Everybody is so happy and festive and it's not anything like I've experienced before with any other holiday.”

Diane Fuller, of Emmaus, said she and her family came to the parade “to be able to see some of the Irish heritage and get a chance to let my son to see some of the great things that the Lehigh Valley offers but you don't get to see on a daily basis, especially a lot of the different bands.”

“It’s a great way to bring the community together,” she said.

King and queen

At a ceremony Friday, the parade committee crowned Schnecksville residents Kenneth and Susan Walsh king and queen of this year’s parade.

In 2025, the parade will fall on Sunday, March 23.