St. Patrick’s Day, otherwise known as the Feast of St. Patrick, is an Irish cultural and religious celebration that dates back to the early 17th century. Like all cultures of the world, this one has made its way to the melting pot of America and has left its mark on the Mile Square. As a popular holiday here in Hoboken, St. Patrick’s Day gives the town an opportunity to pay homage to its Irish roots and celebrate authentically. Read on to learn more about some of the history of the holiday in the Mile Square.
Hoboken’s Irish Roots
There is a rich Irish culture embedded into Hoboken’s fabric. As stated in the book, Immigrants in Hoboken by Christina A. Ziegler-McPherson, the first wave of immigrants to the city were mostly German and Irish in the 1840s. Most Irish immigrants came from the west coast of Ireland and they settled throughout Hoboken, mostly in the third and fourth ward. By 1870, the first few blocks of Ferry Street, Jefferson Street, and Monroe Street were predominantly inhabited by Irish immigrants, with the population growing steadily. Despite their lack of resources at the time, the Irish quickly set roots in town by opening pubs and parishes.
The Annual Parade
Hoboken held an annual St. Patrick’s Day parade throughout the city from 1986 to 2012 (festivities were eventually stopped to ensure public safety). The parade was originally a 14 block march that began on 14th and Washington Street and ended on 1st and Washington Street. In its 26-year history, it was New Jersey’s largest parade and drew spectators from throughout the Tristate area. Many of the town’s organizations and clubs participated in the parade, such as the Hoboken High School Rockin’ Redwings Band (as well as other high school bands), marching pipe bands, traditional Irish dancers, antique cars, fire trucks, cultural organizations, and nominated honorees for Irish Man and Woman of the Year, Firefighter of the Year, Police Officer of the Year, and more. Many people don’t realize it, but the bands that march + perform in parades are paid for their services, thus the need for a fundraiser.
The History of the Parade
It was the family of Helen Cunning, a lifelong Hoboken resident, that founded the Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Her family began fundraising in 1985 for the event, in the hopes of bringing to life their dream of honoring their heritage in a fun and inclusive way for all visitors.
“I was elected to the Hoboken City Council in 1985. That year, members of my family and I were kicking ideas around for an event that would help to honor our Irish heritage and my dad suggested a parade,” Helen told Hoboken Girl.
“We had over 300 people at the Elks under the name of Helen Cunning + Friends. We were quickly joined by our friends and neighbors, as well as Joan Wall at The Shannon Bar and many of the then-new Irish pubs opening on 1st Street and formed a committee to start planning the first parade for 1986.”
Fast forward to the “first Sunday in March” of that year and Helen and her father are marching through the streets as part of the first-ever St. Patrick’s Day parade right here in the Mile Square. Today, their legacy lives on.
“Over the next 25 years, we were blessed to be able to honor so many wonderful people who gave so much to our Irish and Hoboken community. They came from many different walks of life, from community leaders to school teachers, police and firefighters to local business people and public officials,” Helen explained. “It was such a beautiful and family-centered event for so many years, and satisfying as well as it was a grand boost for the local economy in the middle of winter. The parade had a glorious and beautiful beginning. I am forever grateful to those that helped to make it a reality.”
Traditionally, the parade was always held on the first Saturday of every March, but in an attempt to maintain the rowdiness that occurred during the festivities, former Mayor Dawn Zimmer moved the parade to a Wednesday. Ultimately, the decision was made to cancel it indefinitely in 2012, due to the overwhelming popularity that made it difficult to ensure public safety.
Presently, however, Hoboken is one of the many cities with a rich Irish identity and the town has always celebrated that heritage. If you’ve got it on hand, whip up some corned beef and cabbage or order some festive food, crack open a Guinness, and start celebrating.