An Historic St. Pat’s Parade Down Beale, One Week Early
The Silky Sullivan St. Patrick’s Day Parade, ca. 2019 (Photo courtesy Beale Street Merchants Association)
Silky O’Sullivan’s has been a mainstay of Beale Street for decades, so it’s only natural that St. Patrick’s Day should cause the street to erupt into celebrations. This year, the March 17 holiday is merely the culmination of a week’s worth of revelry that includes Silky Sullivan’s St. Patrick’s Parade on Saturday, March 11. Given that this is the parade’s 50th Anniversary, why not start drinking early?
The parade is presented by the Beale Street Merchants Association and sponsored by the Irish Eyes of Memphis, and is the public highlight of a full week of commemorations, including a motor caravan to pick up visiting dignitaries on March 9, the Africa in April Salutes Ireland luncheon and Beale Street Merchants dinner on March 10, and a Beale Street pub crawl and “raising of the goat” at Silky O’Sullivan’s on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.
The roots of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the oldest continuously running parade in Memphis, lie with the Irish Eyes of Memphis, a group led by the late politician Mark Flanagan and bar owners Thomas Boggs and Thomas “Silky” Sullivan. The group started in 1969 when Flanagan began hosting St. Patrick’s Day barbecues at his home. By 1973, the year from which the current event marks its beginning, the barbecue had grown so big it was a multi-venue event.
Of course, being centered on Beale Street, music will be front and center this year. That’s partly reflected in this year’s Grand Marshal, Pat Mitchell Worley, president and CEO of the Soulsville Foundation and longtime host of the syndicated radio program Beale Street Caravan (and whose wedding was held on Beale during the parade years ago). Ron Childers, chief meteorologist for WMC Action News 5, will serve as King, complete with a crown forged by smiths at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis.
Also in the court will be Moira Flanagan, niece of the parade’s co-founder Mark Flanagan. She will be crowned Queen of All Western Appalachia. Meanwhile, Benny Carter, the proprietor of Murphy’s, is the Irish American of the Year.
Music will figure more directly into the proceedings via the Christian Brothers High School marching band, the oldest high school band in America. It’s enjoyed a continuous existence since its founding in the fall of 1872 by Br. Maurelian, who served as the first band director. The first recorded performance of the group was in the Memphis St. Patrick’s Day Parade of 1873, and the band has performed every year since.
“One thing that makes the St. Patrick’s parade so special, and all of the celebrations we have for St. Patrick’s, is that it’s for everyone,” says Joellyn Sullivan, the former owner of Silky O’Sullivan’s and a St. Patrick’s Parade organizer. “This is a blanket invitation to gather our citizens together shoulder to shoulder sharing smiles, sharing cheers, wishes for good luck, wishes for friendships new and old, and peace to all.”
Named by the Beale Street Merchants Association in honor of Sullivan’s husband Thomas, who was considered Memphis’ “King of the Irish,” the parade started in Midtown Memphis, but has been held on Beale Street for the past 30 years.
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