The Mackay Pipe Band performs in the eighth annual Celtic Classic Parade of Shamrocks on Saturday, March 11, 2017, in North Bethlehem. This year's parade resumed after a hiatus in 2018, and celebrated Irish culture in the Bethlehem community. (Courtesy of Neville Gardner)

Celtic Classic Parade of Shamrocks marches through Bethlehem

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The Celtic Cultural Alliance hosted the eighth annual Celtic Classic Parade of Shamrocks on March 16 throughout North Bethlehem.

Starting off at 10th Avenue and Broad Street, the parade had five divisions and 42 different groups of performers. Parade participants consist of local high school and middle school bands, community groups, pipe bands, dance groups, local dignitaries and businesses.

Though it took a year off, due to a low number of parade volunteers and participants in 2018, the nonprofit Celtic Cultural Alliance was excited to host another Parade of Shamrocks in order to celebrate the Irish culture in the Bethlehem area.

The parade itself is celebrating the idea of the Irish culture and what it brought to the community,” said Marcie Mulligan, cultural outreach chair of the Celtic Cultural Alliance. “The Irish culture in itself would probably be represented by the music that’s played. We also joke about the wearing of the green.”

Prior to the parade, the Celtic Cultural Alliance hosted an Irish sing-along at Historic Hotel Bethlehem on Friday night. This event occurred in the hotel lobby where guests gathered around the piano for three hours and sang Irish folk songs.

Before the Parade of Shamrocks, there was a Celtic breed dog parade on Saturday morning.

Some restaurants played around with their menu items and served ‘eggs and kegs.’ Other restaurants like McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub adjusted its menu to serve more British-Isles-themed food surrounding the St. Patrick’s Day holiday.

Donegal Square and McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub on Main Street are owned by Neville Gardener. The two businesses played Irish music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

There was also an event hosted at The Ice House, which is a performing arts center on River Street. 

“We held a big ticketed festival there over the weekend where we had musicians, dancers, pipers and harpists,” Gardener said. “A lot of traditional music was going on there this past weekend, in addition to the music that was going on at the pub. We had a lot of entertainment going on.”

Gardener recognized the Celtic — including Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh — demographic in the area and built his businesses based on this. He helped start the Celtic Classic Festival as a way to educate people about their own culture and about their history.

“There’s obviously a pretty strong heritage here that’s got culture rooted in it,” Gardener said. 

Shaun McNulty, ’22, attends the Parade of Shamrocks annually to celebrate his Irish heritage with friends and family.

“It’s all about identity and family relations,” McNulty said. “We have been ingrained to keep up with these traditions ever since the Irish came to America.”

Irish settlers came to Pennsylvania in the early 1700s seeking religious freedom. Later on, they sought out job opportunities. Whether it be working at Bethlehem Steel or the coal mines, the Irish were faced with a large amount of adversity in their early days.

“At first (Irish-Americans) were outcasts,” McNulty said. “They weren’t allowed certain jobs, and people didn’t want them in certain areas, so it was a very hard transition. The Irish-Americans only knew how to stick together. St. Patrick’s Day and celebrating that identity is important for me, my family and other Irish-Americans as it represents acceptance and finally being who we are.” 

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