Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - St. Patrick's Day is back once again on Friday, and the City of Buffalo is gearing up for another big weekend of festivities.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to come together with family, neighbors, friends, and celebrate that heritage. To get out, enjoy the community, enjoy everything that Buffalo and Western New York has to offer, and give back to the businesses that benefit during this time," said Buffalo Common Councilman Chris Scanlon during the St. Patrick's Day flag-raising ceremony on Thursday in Niagara Square. "There's a lot of businesses throughout our community. This is a major time of the year for them to increase revenue for their bottom line. Again, get out, enjoy one another's company, have a singsong, share a few stories, and enjoy that culture, that heritage."
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While many people will kick off the cultural celebration on St. Patrick's Day on Friday, festivities in the City of Buffalo get started on Saturday with the Old Neighborhood Parade in Buffalo's "Old First Ward". That parade is slated to start at 12 p.m. ET, beginning on South Park Avenue and ending on Louisiana Street.
One of this year's co-Grand Marshals of the Old Neighborhood Parade is Peg Overdorf, who feels this parade is certainly more of the Irish classic, because it is the celebration of Irish heritage in Buffalo.
"Many of the roots were founded here in these old neighborhoods, because the early Irish immigrants settled here, working on the Erie Canal. They came here, and then went South, usually to South Buffalo, Hamburg, or wherever. It was a migration of sorts," said Overdorf during her appearance on WBEN on Thursday.
What makes the Old Neighborhood Parade special, in Overdorf's mind, is it takes place in a community where the Irish heritage began many years ago, and it follows a similar route to the original parade started several years ago.
"There is some controversy over when the original parade was, but I'm dating back to 1913 when it began out of Quinn's Tavern at Miami and Chicago Street and formed up at the old West Market Terminal - site of the new casino - and paraded through the streets of the Old First Ward and the Valley. Hence, we call it the 'Old Neighborhood Parade,' because it's combining both neighborhoods," Overdorf explained.
The Old Neighborhood Parade has grown over the years, starting with around 25 units, where there might have been one or two people in each unit. Nowadays, there's over 100 units that happen to be the same size of the more well-known downtown parade on Sunday.
"No matter what the weather is, we have people come out, spectators come out and watch the parade and enjoy the day," Overdorf said with Brian Mazurowski and Susan Rose. "It's an economic boon for all of South Buffalo, because everybody goes to the parade and then filters into other establishments for parties, house parties, what have you."
And as the Old Neighborhood Parade grows, it also brings people back to the community, and serves as a reunion for neighbors and others.
"It's a time for neighbors that were long ago to meet again. They may see each other once a year, and on St. Patrick's Day, that'd be the day. It's a sense of community, it's a sense of neighborhood," Overdorf said. "The downtown parade, you don't know where these people are from. Here, people usually know each other, for the most part. It's the re-acquaintance of old classmates, old schoolmates, old neighbors."
Then on Sunday, the annual Buffalo St. Patrick's Day Parade takes place downtown, starting at 2 p.m. ET on Delaware Avenue.
"As always, we expect a large crowd of people coming out to celebrate," said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown on Thursday. "We're asking people to celebrate safely and responsibly, and to have a great time and a great St. Patrick's Day in the City of Buffalo."
The 2022 St. Patrick's Day in Buffalo nearly one year ago was a special occasion for many in Western New York, as it was the first St. Patrick's Day Parade with no restrictions or hinderances that the COVID-19 pandemic brought about starting in 2020.
While the 2022 parade was still very well-attended by many people in the city and across the region, the plans are to continue to keep growing the parade and making it more of a spectacle as life continues to get back to normal.
"The first year was our first year back since the COVID pandemic, and we were getting back off the ground running and everything again. This year, let's continue the support from all the marchers, all the media presence, all the people behind the scenes putting the parade together, all the elected officials," said Daniel O'Sullivan, Chairman of the United Irish American Association (UIAA) on Thursday. "We hope to keep continue growing the parade to pre-pandemic terms, where [we have] 50-100 marching units, and getting back to being one of the most prestigious parades in the country."
For several years now, the UIAA has been helping set up the Buffalo St. Patrick's Day Parade. They take great pride in not only setting up one of the largest St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the country, but also being able to spread Irish heritage, Irish history, and all of the things they do to contribute to the Western New York community.
"It's something we really hang our hats on," O'Sullivan said. "We start meeting probably early November, all through the winter season, through the holiday seasons, to really make this a community event. We want to lift up the City of Buffalo, we want to lift up the neighborhood and surrounding communities, and come together and celebrate it. It's something that helps with tourism throughout this region, brings people in here. It lets them see what Buffalo is all about, and just does tremendous things for the city. We're grateful to be able to put this parade on, and be part of the growth and development that's going on around this region."
Bestowing the honor as Grand Marshal for the 2023 Buffalo St. Patrick's Day Parade is Jim Wannemacher, who works for New Era Cap and has been part of the parade committee for several years. He says being the Grand Marshal for one of the country's largest St. Patrick's Day celebrations is certainly an exciting honor.
"It still hasn't set in yet," said Wannemacher on Thursday. "Parade day, it'll be overwhelming, I'm sure. But it's amazing to be given this honor. It's been great so far, and I can't wait 'til Sunday."
Over the years, Wannemacher and his family has taken part in a lot of the Irish cultural activities across the city. It was shortly after New Era Cap made the move downtown when the parade asked if they could use New Era's building as their headquarters. It was a chance for Wannemacher to jump at the chance to do it, and along the way, became good friends with everybody on the committee.
As for what he expects for the 2023 celebration, Wannemacher feels it will be a packed house down Delaware Avenue come Sunday.
"A lot of it depends on the weather, you never know, but I think everybody's getting back to normal," Wannemacher said. "Looking forward to having a good time downtown, getting back down here and watching the parade, and all their friends going up-and-down that route."
As for what may be new for the annual parade this year, Wannemacher says expect a few more bands to be playing down the streets, which always makes for great energy.
"We try to keep it to a group of people that are really coming down to support St. Patrick and the parade itself. Just good family fun, good marching units," he said. "The fire department will be coming down, and the police department helps us out a lot, but they'll be marching, as well. So just the pride of all that coming down, it'll be great."
Here is a list of St. Patrick's Day Weekend traffic closures to be aware of across the City of Buffalo:
Saturday, March 18 - Old Neighborhood Parade: 10:30 a.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET
- South Park Avenue (Hamburg to Lee)
- Smith Street (Elk to South Park)
- Elk Street (Smith to South Park)
- Hamburg Street (South Park to South)
- Louisiana Street (Ohio to Republic)
Sunday, March 19 - St. Patrick's Day Parade: 10 a.m. ET to 4 p.m. ET
- Niagara Square and Delaware Avenue (from Niagara Square to North Street)
Traffic closures to accommodate extra pedestrians in the Entertainment District: Saturday, March 18 at 10 a.m. ET to Sunday, March 19 at 6 a.m. ET
- Chippewa Street (Pearl to Delaware)
- Allen Street (Delaware to Wadsworth)
In addition, Bishop Michael Fisher from the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has announced a commutation from eating meat on St. Patrick’s Day. A commutation means that those Catholics who choose to eat meat on Friday, March 17 are obliged to choose another day before March 24, 2023 to abstain from eating meat.