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St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Beale

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Legend has it that St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, was undertaking a 40 day fast when he was attacked by snakes, which, according to the fossil record, never existed in Ireland. Patrick responded by chasing his non-existent attackers into the sea thus explaining why serpents that never lived in Ireland still don't. It's a good story. Maybe not as good as Mark Flanagan's story about a time in the early 1980s when he, and a considerable group of St. Patrick's Day revelers, chased the snakes off Mud Island.

Paula Raiford - FRANK CHIN
  • Frank Chin
  • Paula Raiford

"It was a tongue-and-cheek-type deal," says Flanagan, an original member of Irish Eyes, the event's founding body. Flanagan describes how his merry band of celebrants terrorized construction workers working on the Mud Island river park by hurling 500 lifelike rubber snakes the way people on parade floats throw beads. "It looked just like something out of a movie," he says, describing the snake-induced chaos.

It should come as no surprise that Memphis' 45-year-old St. Patrick's Day Parade was conceived by bar owners who initially envisioned it as a pub crawl. It was veritable cabal of storied tavern keepers: Zinnie's Gerry Wynn, Wanda Wilson from the P&H, Jimmy Robertson of Friday's and Trader Dick's, Huey's Thomas Boggs, and Silky Sullivan.

"Liquor by the drink had just come in in 1971, and we were a bar-crawling crowd," says Flanagan, who spent 30 years traveling back and forth between Memphis and the Emerald Isle, doing media relations for the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking festival.

"We used to go all the way from downtown to Overton Square," Flanagan says of the original pub crawl. "We've been on Beale Street for almost 20 years now, and there are going to be over 60 units in this year's parade."

Events connected to the Beale Street parade begin Thursday when a caravan from Silky's arrives at the airport to pick up special guests from Ireland. Music sheets are passed out and Irish songs sung as the guests arrive and are swept into cars where they are driven downtown, making single drink stops at taverns along the route. Although the caravan makes its last stop at Silky's, this party carries on in some form or another till Saturday when the parade kicks off at 3 p.m. Without snakes, this time.

St. Patrick's Day Parade on Beale St. 3 p.m. Free.

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