St.Patrick's Day is the celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick. It's evolved over the years to celebrate Irish culture and the Irish community. It's not uncommon to spot people wearing their best green attire. St. Patrick's Day in America has become synonymous with partying and drinking, especially Irish whiskey. Many festivals showcase traditional Irish dancing and Irish foods. One of the most well-known and loved Irish dishes is corned beef and cabbage.
There are Irish immigrants across the United States, with several Irish in Savannah, Georgia. It may surprise you to know that Georgians claim Irish ancestry more than any other European nation.
Savannah Irish History
After the potato famine of the 1800s, there was a large demand for labor to build railroads and canals. Irishmen flocked to Georgia to join the workforce. The Central of Georgia railroad was mainly built by the Irish. Georgia Southern University reported that by the 1860s, one out of three white families in Savannah were Irish immigrants.
The Civil War and Industrial Revolution led to people moving to other large port cities like New York, Atlanta, and Charleston, South Carolina. The ports in those cities began turning the Irish away to leave room for American workers. Savannah, GA was one of the few places to take in the Irish.
At that time, the Irish tended to live in African American neighborhoods. The Irish and African Americans shared similar lifestyles and often socialized after work. Savannah's elites did not appreciate the mingling of the two minority groups.
Emmet Park is a wonderful park in downtown Savannah. This park used to be known as the "Irish Green" because it is close to the Old Fort neighborhood. The park is now dedicated to the Irish patriot, Robert Emmet. A stone Celtic cross was erected as a memorial to the Irish.
Tara Reese, President of the Savannah Irish Festival gave us some in-depth information about the Savannah Irish:
"Most of Savannah Irish came over on ships from County Wexford in Ireland. Joseph Nunn was born in County Wexford, Ireland. Before coming to Savannah, he received preliminary instruction in medicine in London and Dublin. Nunn served in the Confederate States Army with the Oglethorpe Siege Artillery, rising through the ranks to captain."
Bishop Barry, also from Wexford, became the Diocese of Savannah. He gave money to several Catholic Savannah organizations.
Savannah St. Patrick's Day Celebration
Savannah's Irish Heritage may be most celebrated by the Savannah Irish Festival. This is a St. Patrick's Day festival that celebrates the Irish roots of the city and Irish American families.
Unfortunately, the festival was canceled in 2021 due to Covid. Covid and fundraising issues also canceled the festival for 2022. However, it is the goal of the Savannah Irish Festival Committee to bring back the festival in 2023.
Along with the festival, the City of Savannah hosts a world-famous St. Patrick's Day Parade. The first parade was conducted by the Hibernian Society in 1812. This group was formed by forty-four Savannah gentlemen to help Irish immigrants.
The day before the parade, there is a ceremony celebrating deceased military members. It is held in front of Sgt. William Jasper's monument in Madison Square.
The grand marshal of the parade, along with fellow Irishmen, participate in the greening of the fountain each year before St. Patrick's Day. The event takes place in the historic district at Forsyth Park.
One of the major celebratory events is the Shamrock the River Lighting Ceremony. This takes place at MLK Park, overlooking the Savannah River. Iconic buildings in the Plant Riverside District will be illuminated green.
Shamrocks and Shenanigans is a fun event that runs the week of St. Patrick's Day. There are live music performances, food, and drinks.