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The annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade through downtown Denver is one of the city’s grandest and longest-running traditions. For the procession’s 50th anniversary in 2012, some 500,000 people descended on downtown for green beers and endless floats, making it one of the largest outdoor celebrations in Denver history (about 600,000 people turned out for the Denver Broncos’ last Super Bowl celebration).
That meant the tradition’s cancellation the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while understandably warranted, was sad for many families, according to president of the celebration Mike O’Neill. “I was speaking to [a city leader] who had expressed, ‘When I told my kids in 2020 that we couldn’t march in the parade, they were heartbroken,’ ” O’Neill says.
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Luckily, the beloved St. Patrick’s Day Parade is set to return on Saturday, March 12. And yet again, close to 500,000 people are expected to head to downtown Denver (weather permitting) to be Irish for a day and watch hundreds of floats and parade units from groups like the Wick School of Irish Dance and the Rocky Mountain Scottish Athletes travel from 19th and Wynkoop streets all the way up to 27th and Blake streets. Celebrations begin at 9 a.m and go until noon.
“I’ll just say for myself, I’m ready to go back to normalcy,” O’Neill says. “I think I’m probably in [agreement] with everybody across the world that, you know, it has been a hard journey for all of us. And we just can’t wait to get the parade back out.”
Ceremonies began on Monday when the Denver City Council read a proclamation honoring the parade committee. On Thursday, the city also held the annual Changin’ of the Sign ceremony, during which Blake Street was renamed Tooley Street in honor of longtime District Attorney and Irishman Dale Tooley.
Though some sources clash on when the first St. Patty’s procession was held, most accounts agree that the first “official parade” occurred in 1962 when the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe, visited the city. That would make 2022’s march the 60th anniversary of that original event.
Theresa Melaragno, a three-time parade president from 2017 to 2019, says she always sees the parade as the unofficial start of spring in the Mile High City. But it’s also about much more than walking down the street with a beer. “It’s so noteworthy how the Irish actually helped to build Colorado. When they immigrated, they came with such a fierce determination to make a life for themselves,” she says. “They even built some buildings there on Logan Street. They wanted to be a part of the community and celebrate it, and I think it is important that we carry that history on.”
Some of the participants also have fun things planned for the parade’s return. “We have a rollercoaster car on our float,” says Jolie DuBois, who helped put together a float for Elitch Gardens, “and when we get to some of the stopping points, the crew pretends they’re on the ride. The crowd always gets really into it with us.”
The Denver St. Patrick’s Day Parade is a nonprofit that is run entirely by volunteers. There are approximately 170 people pitching in to help this year, O’Neill says. But he and the others don’t need money to feel rewarded for their work.
“My payment is when I think of all the smiling faces and the people that are on the parade ground just having a great time and enjoying themselves,” O’Neill says. “That truly is the payoff for not only myself, but everybody in our community, knowing that we were part of bringing that much happiness and joy to citizens of Denver and Colorado.”
Get Involved: Visit the Denver St. Patrick’s Day website to donate and support future iterations of the long-running tradition.