No Blarney • Bay City’s St. Pat’s Festivities Are Coming Back Strong in 2022

Buzz by the Bay

Posted In: Culture, ,   From Issue 926   By: Jason Dean

24th February, 2022     0

Anyone who is convinced that July 4 is the national holiday of choice in Bay City because of a few fireworks must be in Snowbirdland during the month of March. Because between the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the St. Pat’s Day Races, St. Paddy’s Midland Street Pub Crawl, and all the Irish music, any leprechaun would feel as fortunate as a four-leaf clover to brave the final days of winter for a chance to knock Jack Frost ass-over-teakettle while enjoying a pint or two of green-tinted beer in Bay City. 

After two years on the curbside because of the pandemic, the parade and all related activities are returning to the streets, paving the way for a hopeful return to outdoor life (unless you count huddling up in an ice shanty on the Saginaw River as an outdoor activity, which I do not).

In a tradition that dates back to 1955, Bay City will host the 67th St. Patrick’s Day parade on Sunday, March 20. The parade starts at 2 pm, and St. Pat’s Day Parade Treasurer Jan Rau is expecting 100 floats to participate. Any more than that, and the parade stretches out past the 2-hour mark, she says, which they try to avoid. The route begins on Center at Park Avenue, heading west and concluding at Water Street. It’s a 1.7-mile trek at a 35-minute pace for parade participants.

The parade attracts tens of thousands of spectators, with the weather being the primary variable affecting final numbers. However, with Covid in the equation, Rau is not entirely sure what to expect after the 2-year layoff as people re-engage in public activities with varying degrees of comfort. Another factor that affects parade attendee demographics is the hometown of the St. Patrick’s Day queen.

In 2019, the most recent year the parade was held, the queen was from Mackinaw City, which resulted in many more attendees from points north, says Rau. This year’s queen is Faith Sneller from Bay City.

Reaching an attendance mark of 40,000 to 50,000 people would make this year’s parade a success, says Rau. In 2012, a 75-degree heatwave and sunny skies resulted in the highest attendance ever as 80,000 people flooded the downtown sidewalks to watch the festivities.

Back in 1955, the parade’s first year, there were a total of nine floats, including entries by Michigan Bell Telephone, Auburn Accordion Marching Band, and Munger Civil Defense Unit. The parade lasted 30 minutes from start to finish. 

The Central High School Marching Band, which also participated in that first parade, will march this year, along with high school marching bands from Bay City Western and Bangor John Glenn. There will also be two bagpipe marching bands, one from Ludington. 

The parade marshal for 2022 is Robert Shea, who founded the Bay City Chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the oldest and largest Irish-Catholic organization in the U.S. Shea won’t be the only marshal honored with a drive down Center Avenue, though. Because the 2020 parade was canceled after much of the preparation had already been completed, that year’s marshal, Don Carlyon, was denied his formal honor. So this year, he will be chauffeured in style, riding in an antique vehicle that was procured especially for him.

It’s a tight-knit group of hardy and dedicated folks that keep the parade going strong, generation after generation. Rau, who took over as treasurer from her mother in 1986, jokes that her unofficial title is “Treasurer-for-Life.” Still, she considers herself a “newbie.” Her brother, Jim Oswald, has been lining up floats and participants at the parade starting point since 1970. 

The Running of the Green

The 49th Annual Bay Area Runners Club St. Pat’s Day Run will happen earlier in the day on March 20. Races include the 8K run, 5K run, 5K walk and the Leprechaun races (1K, 0.5K, and 0.25K) for the kiddos. Runners wishing for a bigger pot of gold can run the Irish Double, which entitles them to entry into the 8K and 5K for one price. Virtual races, which were held in 2020 and 2021, will also be available for each of this year’s races.

Registration is open now, and there is a cap of 4,000 race participants, with the Irish Double having 1,100 available spots. Virtual entrants will be able to upload their results until March 25, but they will not be eligible for any race awards.

Maybe running on a brisk Sunday morning in March isn’t your thing. It could be that the Midland Street District Wide Pub Crawl is more your speed. Happening the Thursday before the race and parade on March 17, the pub crawl is a popular event that allows attendees to visit all of their favorite pubs, on foot, for one price. 

Irish-themed music will be the green-light special throughout the weekend. For instance, Mode’s Tavern on Linn Street has a full menu with Marsupial Creampie and Magh Maell on Friday, prog folk duo Ironwood on Saturday, and celtic trio Madigan’s Attic on Sunday. Bagpiper Garret DeWyse will be roaming the area all weekend as well.

All in all, why would you spend St. Paddy’s Day in Snowbirdland when green things are bloomin’ all around right here in Bay City? 



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