“The official, original party is back on.”
The Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade is set to return to the island streets after a two-year absence due to the COVID pandemic. The parade is set to begin at 3 p.m. March 13 on Pope Avenue.
Alan Perry has been a driving force in organizing the parade for close to 25 years, but he has never been happier in life to utter those six words.
“We are just so thankful to all the folks that stood by us, so thankful for all the sponsors who stayed with us through it all,” Perry said. “The whole crew of volunteers and organizers is so excited to make this the best parade yet. There is so much energy to get back out there and celebrate – it’s going to be an amazing day.”
South Carolina’s oldest St. Patrick’s parade and the island’s largest single-day event returns for its 37th year honoring of Irish heritage. The event was canceled in 2020 and, with COVID numbers still high in 2021, organizers created a boat parade along Broad Creek in place of the land party.
The boat parade was so well-received that it has become the beginning anchor to what has now become a weekend-long celebration.
The boat parade will begin around 10:30 a.m., beginning at the head of Broad Creek and ending at Shelter Cove. There is no entry fee, but registration is required.
The action then moves to the island’s newest centerpiece, Lowcountry Celebration Park, 94 Pope Ave., for the inaugural Irish concert at 4 p.m., featuring Boston Irish rock band The Fenian Sons, the Boston Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums, and the New York City Police Department Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band.
Entry is free to the concert, and local vendors will have food and beverages for sale. The music ends at 7 p.m. at the park but will continue at Reilley’s Grill and Bar, official parade headquarters.
“You combine what we learned and gained from the boat parade with just having some downtime to really think about how we can enhance the event, and we’re just so excited to bring these bands to town,” Perry said. “It’s been a lot of work and coordination by a lot of folks. We’ll have the beer truck from Island Rec there. It’s really going to get things kicked off right.”
The long-awaited parade itself begins on Pope Avenue at Celebration Park. The route then heads toward Sea Pines Circle, turning left onto Office Park Road and ending at Park Plaza.
Perry said the addition of the new park as an additional staging area for bands and floats will make this all the more organized.
“It gives us more room for sure and a clearer space to tell folks to gather,” Perry said. “We all know that organization will be more important than ever this year. This is a 30,000-person party and with folks so ready to get out and see each other again, it could be an all-time crowd for us.”
Leading the procession of floats and revelers will be Grand Marshals Gloria and Allan LaCoe, who were supposed to be the parade’s honorary leaders in 2020.
“We wanted to make sure that Gloria and Allan received the full recognition they deserve,” Perry said. “And now, they will likely go down in history as the first and only folks to serve as grand marshals across three parades.”
Gloria LaCoe said she and her husband are in awe of being recognized among the parade’s long list of grand marshal honorees.
“I said at the re-sashing ceremony in mid-February, we will be the only ones with a dash between our years. You normally only see that dash in an obituary,” LaCoe said with a smile. “Allan and I, we love this island and the Lowcountry and we’ve always wanted to make sure we’re making the most of life in the dash between those years.”
The couple helped to establish the annual Thanksgiving community dinner at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks in 2000.
“We saw a quote in the paper from Betsy Doughtie, the leader of Deep Well Project, that spoke about how there are so many lonely locals on Thanksgiving and we wanted to change that,” LaCoe said. The LaCoes teamed with their church, St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist, and with the Carmines family, owners of Hudson’s, to help launch the family-style dinner.
“People say it would be easier to have a buffet, but we want folks sitting at a table, sparking on conversation and feeling like they are among their island family,” LaCoe said. “This island is such a special place, we feel so lucky to have found our lives here.”
The couple have roots in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and moved permanently to the island via Atlanta in 1995.
“You drive over that bridge, there is such a comfort. You know you’re home,” she said. “It’s 12 miles long and four miles wide, so you’re going to make friends. The dinner and the parade, they are just a big gathering of friends, so we are so honored to be part of that.”
One change in this year’s event for parade goers is that no items can be thrown or handed out due to COVID and safety concerns. While there will be no usual candy spraying of the crowd from the floats, Perry said the party atmosphere will be just as electric as ever.
“I think folks are just going to be excited to be back to some level of normalcy and be out and about among each other,” he said. “It’s an important change we made for safety reasons, but it will be every bit the celebration as before.”
LaCoe said she hopes to see many new faces among the crowd and is excited to keep the history of the event alive.
“My Irish Catholic parents would be proud,” she said. “I just thank the committee so much for all their hard work and their dedication to pulling off this event year after year. I can’t wait to show visitors and newcomers how we islanders can pull off a celebration.”
For more information on the 37th annual Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade, visit hiltonheadireland.org.
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at email@example.com.