The public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland has a longer history than we once thought. The very first Parade that we know about in Cleveland was organized in 1842 by the city’s third resident Catholic priest, Rev. Peter McLaughlin. Fr. McLaughlin was a proponent of “temperance,” or abstinence from alcohol, and his St. Patrick’s Day celebration began with mass at St. Mary’s on the Flats—the only Catholic church in Cleveland’s city limits at that time—continued with a Parade of the Catholic Temperance Society, and concluded with a banquet attended by friends and family members.
Various organizations have sponsored and participated in the Parade at different times over the Parade’s 175-year history. Sometimes it was organized by explicitly Catholic groups, such as the Fr. Mathew Total Abstinence Society, the Catholic Central Association, or the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic fraternal organization, whose 19th century membership rosters are housed at Western Reserve Historical Society. At other times, the Parade was organized by groups more specifically interested in the cause of Irish nationalism, such as a local militia known as the Hibernian Guards, the Fenian Brotherhood, or the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association. In more modern times, the Irish American Civic Association organized the Parade from 1935-1957, and the United Irish Societies of Greater Cleveland has managed the Parade from 1958 through today.
The structure of the United Irish Societies was formalized with the sole aim of running the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The concept was, and is, that independent, constituent organizations would come together, headed by an Executive Director, to take mutual responsibility for raising the money for the Parade and for developing and implementing the guidelines for the Parade. At its founding, member groups were the only Irish organizations that were allowed to march in the Parade.
A treasure trove for more recent Parade history can be found in the papers of Raymond “Rip” Reilly (a longtime Parade director and publicist) at WRHS!