Savannah is a picturesque port town characterized by its Victorian, Gothic Revival, and Neoclassical architecture. The neighborhoods are trimmed in ironwork, patched with park squares, and festooned with Spanish moss which dangles from its abundant towering oak trees. Each March every fountain in the city is dyed green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and over 750,000 locals and tourists attend the extensive parade.
St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Georgia is the second largest celebration of the day in the United States, with only New York City surpassing Savannah in enthusiasm. The revelry has been described as a slightly, just slightly, tamer version of Mardi Gras. In 1983 the Irish phrase “Erin go Bragh” meaning “Ireland Forever” was revised to “Erin go Bare” as topless women flaunted their Irish spirit up and down Savannah’s River Street. Unfortunately in subsequent celebrations Savannah heightened their police enforcement, curbing further acts of spontaneous nudism. Still, the festivities’ reputation and popularity has grown tremendously since its 19th century beginnings, and even U.S. Presidents Harry S. Truman and Jimmy Carter have attended the parade.
The Budweiser Clydesdales, military troops, special groups flown in from Ireland, and bands from all around the U.S. and Canada join local participants in the march set to the sound of pipes and the beat of marching drums. Elaborate shamrock-adorned floats also glide by in the family-friendly parade. The parade route begins midmorning east of Forsyth Park and makes its way down the lengthy Abercorn Street, makes a right on Broughton, passes the high-end shopfronts and winds around to Bay Street overlooking River Street and the Savannah River before making its way down picturesque Bull Street back towards Forsyth park. After the parade ends in the afternoon, the festivities take a wilder turn.
St. Patrick’s Day falls during Spring Break, so in addition to swarms of green-clad locals the streets are filled with body-painted, green-haired college students who come in from campuses in other cities to party in the nightlife district, which is mainly located between River Street alongside the Savannah River and on Broughton Street. The bars literally overflow with patrons and drinking on the streets is temporarily legalized within the designated festival zone. A wristband must be obtained to participate and no more than 16 ounces of alcohol can be carried in a plastic cup at a time to avoid the scrutiny of the police.
The bars stop serving alcohol at 1am and the festivities then start to dissipate to house parties and low-end hotels. Savannah’s lodging options are limited and quickly fill up during major events like St. Patrick’s Day. During the daytime many of the parade attendees camp out in Savannah’s shady paradeside public squares. For visitors who are more collected than the ubiquitous party animals there are upscale options like the riverfront hotels and dozens of bed and breakfasts located within historic homes. These embody the most unique Savannah character and some provide the setting for local ghost stories intertwined in Savannah’s dense history.
St. Patrick’s Day has also long been part of Savannah’s history. The patron saint of the city of Savannah is St. Patrick himself and the first parade was conducted in 1813 by the local Hibernian group who formed to assist impoverished Irish immigrants. During the Civil War the parade was cancelled on several occasions and Union Troops eventually overtook the city. In 1921 the parade was also cancelled to honor the Irish Revolution. In 1961, the year John F. Kennedy, who has Irish ancestry, was elected the entire Savannah River was died green, like Chicago continues to do today in the Chicago River. The tradition of turning the fountains green has been going strong for over a hundred years. The Forsyth Park Fountain makes an especially striking impression with its four tritons spouting green water from their shell-horns.
Other activities and entertainment include Celtic dances, charity runs, and special ceremonies. River Street also hosts several concurrent art festivals. City Market, the local culinary hub, a pedestrian area lined with restaurants, features a lineup of live music for St. Patrick’s Day. Over on Tybee Island, the local beachfront, another parade is staged usually prior to the main St. Patrick’s Day parade.