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Wholesale Observations: Savannah's St. Patrick’s Day Part 1
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

No series on cities would be complete without mentioning Savannah and its signature celebration, St. Patrick’s Day.

This year (2024) marked the 200th anniversary of that observance, and since St. Patrick’s Day itself (March 17th) fell on a Sunday, the big parade was held the day before, as is custom.

Savannah reportedly has the second-largest St. Patrick’s day parade in the country; only the one in New York City is bigger.

Both cities have large Irish populations; but NYC is of course far larger than Savannah, so that’s OK. We are very proud of our Irish heritage in Savannah, and it shows.

“Everyone in Savannah is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” as the saying goes.

The weather this year cooperated beautifully, too, which is always a relief! It was sunny and cool in the morning, warming up into the low ‘80’s as the day went on – a perfect parade day! I have marched in that parade, in years past, when it has been cloudy, cold and damp, and that is no fun.

So I am always glad when the weather on that day is good, even though I don’t go to it anymore.

When I finished graduate school (UGA) in the mid-1970’s and came back home to Savannah, I eventually found a small apartment one block east of the north end of Forsyth Park, around the corner from the original home of WTOC-TV (unmistakable because of their huge antenna). But my job then was on the western side of the Bay Street viaduct, easily a mile from downtown, so parade days never interfered with my work schedule.

Until 1979. That was the year my middle brother Paul got married, in his girlfriend’s hometown of Broxton, a small community five miles northwest of Douglas, south of Macon and west of Waycross. Their initial plan was for the wedding to be on Saturday, March 17th; until my mom told them that, while that was fine, nobody from Savannah would be there that day! So they moved it to Sunday the 18th. A good choice.

I was supposed to meet my mom at 10 AM that Saturday, the 17th, at the family home in Ardsley Park, in mid-town, for us to drive down to Broxton. I got up about 7:30 AM, and walked two blocks north on Abercorn to get a newspaper at the box outside Clary’s Drugstore, as I did every day back then, and discovered when I did that the streets were already filling up with cars parked everywhere! I had not realized that would happen. So I dashed back to my apartment, threw my clothes into a suitcase, got in my car, and drove to my mom’s house, two hours early.

“What are you doing here so early?” she asked. “If I didn’t get out of downtown now,” I told her, “I wouldn’t be able to get out!” We both laughed. And later left for Douglas, two hours away.

It was a lovely wedding, by the way. My brother and his bride celebrated their 45th anniversary today. Amazing. And I have never forgotten the story of how I came to almost miss their wedding.

I will also never forget seeing a cow, tied to a stake in the middle of someone’s front yard, on the way out of Broxton, that weekend, calmly munching his or her way through the tall grass in that front yard. The rope was just long enough to give the cow a circular path through the entire front yard. Someone later told me, that was what was known as a “country lawn-mower!”

My brother and his wife are both graduates of that "North Avenue Trade School," also known as Georgia Institute of Technology.  As is my next younger brother, David.  We are a "house divided," as the saying goes, as I am a proud graduate of the University of Georgia.  And so we tease each other about that, once in a while.

Paul was a long-time professor of Chemistry and Physics at Tennessee Technical Institute (later University) in Cookeville, TN, midway between Chattanooga and Knoxville.  (Both disciplines above my ken.)  He later served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences there for a number of years.  I sometimes like to tell him, "he's not done badly, for being a 'GA Tech boy!'"  He just grins.

David, on the other hand, was a long-time researcher at two major research labs, one in Philadelphia and one in New Jersey, before relocating to Long Island, NY, and taking a job with a firm that made and sold high-end (very expensive) medical equipment.  He now travels around the world, servicing customers. 

Again, "Not bad for a boy who graduated from the 'North Avenue Trade School.'"

Fortunately, both these brothers have a good sense of humor, so they don't mind my joshing them.  And usually give back as good as they get.

Next article – more memories of St. Patrick's Day in Savannah!

Rafe Semmes is a proud graduate of the "original" Savannah High School on Washington Avenue, and the University of Georgia.  He and his wife live in eastern Liberty County with their menagerie of orphan cats, and are long-time Rotarians.  He writes on a variety of topics, and can be reached at


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