After Wednesday’s freak hailstorm and cloudy skies all Thursday morning, the skies broke, and the sunshine poured on downtown Augusta for the annual Irish American Heritage Society’s parade.
James Odette and Tommy Arthur, along with their 8-year-old dog, Bugsy, found a place on Broad Street early to get the best view of the parade.
“This is something I’ve really been missing,” said Odette, who sat with Bugsy in his lap. Bugsy joined in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit in his Kelly green hat and tie Odette made. “I hope this means things are coming back.”
People lined the parade route for the first time since 2019. Things were just beginning to shut down in March 2020, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was one of the first casualties.
“For pre-registration, we had about 70 individual floats,” said Sean Mooney, secretary of the Irish American Heritage Society.
Another 30 entrants showed up Thursday to bring the total to around 100.
Mooney said he doesn’t know if that’s a record or not, but he did say that the first group who left the James Brown Arena parking lot at the start of the parade made it back to the parking lot for the finish as the final group was just making it onto the route.
The parade drew multiple floats with lots of green, gold, shamrocks and rainbows. People threw candy and green and gold beads.
Joining in the festivities were schools such as Cross Creek High School and Westside High School with their state championship basketball teams. T.W. Josey, Westside and Laney brought their marching bands.
Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree was aboard a float representing the Sheriff’s Office, and the Richmond County marshal’s office also was represented.
Political candidates and other elected officials also took to the parade and streets. Some handed out flyers and met people. Garnett Johnson had multiple vehicles sporting “Garnett Johnson for Mayor” signs. He walked alongside them as did Ashanti Lilley Pounds, who is running for state court judge.
Also there were multiple floats for families with Irish heritage.
After the parade, the festivities went in two different directions. The Augusta Common had food vendors and music planned, while members of the Irish American Heritage Society headed to the parking lot of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, for a céilí.
Mooney said about 200 people were expected to participate in the event that would head well into the night and would feature food, fun and lots of storytelling.
Karen Kelly shared stories with some of her family outside one of the tents.
“My dad was one of the first ones to bring the parade to Augusta,” she said as she showed her phone with a newspaper photo of her father and others who began the tradition in the 1970s.
She and her brother, Philip Kelly, sister-in-law Ellen, who shared her birthday with the holiday and cousin Kim White, who was named Irish Lady in 2020 but didn’t get her parade until this year, talked about the early morning Irish breakfast and their 89-year-old Uncle Jack who told about the early years.
He did it all from memory without a script, White said.
“His speech was amazing,” she said.