Green Lines on 5th Avenue: Saint Patrick’s Day in New York City



Corned Beef and Cabbage, a classic Americanization of an Irish dish (

The American Saint Patrick’s Day celebration–or, more specifically, the New York City celebration–is very different from its origins in the homeland. One of the things that is distinctly American about this holiday is the food that is eaten to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. In Ireland, the traditional dish of this holiday is boiled bacon and cabbage 1 (cabbage was brought from Asia by Irish marauders in the first centuries C.E.). However, as the Irish population began to boom in New York City, boiled bacon was very difficult to come by. However, corned beef was not. A huge portion of the New York City Irish population lived in the Lower East Side, and were able to be brisket-like cuts if beef for an extremely low price; all that was left was to braise it, and voila! Corned Beef. Now, corned beef and cabbage is considered a staple Irish tradition—but it is, in fact, a prime example of an “Americanization” of the cultural representation of a holiday.

Another thing about Saint Patrick’s Day that is distinctly American—or at least was for more than two centuries—was the classic Saint Patrick’s Day Parade. The first New York City Parade took place in 1762, when Irish ex-members of the British Army that were stationed in the colonies began to feel homesick. Important historical context at this time includes that during the mid to late 1700s, Britain controlled Ireland, and many citizens of Ireland were forced into service in the colonies–Irish pride was a banned concept, both at home and abroad. Expressions of this, such as “the wearing of the green,” were harshly prohibited in Ireland—it was seen as a direct attack upon British power. So, because these soldiers finally found themselves in a land that allowed them to express Irish patriotism, free from the oppression of the British because of their flight from battle, they organized a parade to capitalize on the opportunity. In the parade, the people spoke their native Irish Gaelic, played and sang their traditional music, and were actually able to “wear the green” that was so suppressed in their British-controlled homeland. Other Irishmen, who had fled their European land, soon accompanied these soldiers, and the parades soon became a tradition of their own. 2

Beneath the horses’ hooves can be seen the green line that gets painted on fifth avenue by a private Irish group every year for the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade (

For the first few years that the parade was organized, the military continued to do all of the planning. Some 50 years later, though, after the War of 1812, different groups began to take over the heavy duty of upholding this tradition. Irish fraternal brotherhoods and other organizations each took up the responsibility for certain parts of the parade, and converged at the beginning to form a cohesive event. However, within the next few decades, the decision was made to unite more than just the movement of the parade: the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade then was decidedly under the management of a single party, in order to facilitate its successful running. It was the Ancient Order of Hibernians—the group that continues to coordinate the Parade today—that took control in the mid 1800s. With this change, the parade greatly increased in success and overall fanfare.

Still, despite the change from military to fraternal leadership in management, the New York City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade has always been led by an Irish American military group; the “Fighting 69” National Guard Regiment. This is not the only part of the parade that has remained constant: “the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade remains true to its roots as a traditional marchers’ parade by not allowing floats, automobiles and other commercial aspects to participate. Sadly, however, these are not the only potential members of the Parade that are prohibited from partaking in the festivities.

  1. ” Corned Beef And Cabbage: Recipes And History For The Classic St. Patrick’s Day Meal .” Huffpost Food 16 Mar. 2011: n. pag. Web. 17 May 2011. <>.
  2. “History.” New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Ancient Order of Hibernians, 2011. Web. 17 May 2011. <>.

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