One of the first things I learned upon moving to Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1994 was if you’re from here it’s okay if you don’t make it back for Thanksgiving or Christmas because you are sure to see everybody a few months later for the city’s true holiday, St. Patrick’s Day.
Well not really St. Patrick’s Day but the Saturday before the 17th, that is the day the city shuts down each year for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
My mother is 100% Irish, so I was raised with a deep appreciation of and respect for that which makes up half of my DNA but it wasn’t until I moved to Scranton that I got a true appreciation for St. Patrick’s Day itself.
Parade day is one big party in Scranton, that no one can deny, it has always been and it is in that you begin to learn the roots and the heritage of this parade.
When my great-grandparents came to the United States from Ireland in the the 1800’s it was a time of great Irish discrimination. In Philadelphia they found the “NINA” signs we’ve read about, No Irish Need Apply.
They were able to find work and make a home in Philadelphia but so many others who couldn’t headed north to the closest thing to guaranteed work an Irish immigrant could find, the mines.
Scranton is a town built on coal, railroads and steel but it is the mines that weave underneath this city that once served as the workplace for the city’s growing Irish immigrant population.
They worked hard these miners and embraced both their new land and their Irish heritage and it was that combination in 1862 that gave way to Scranton’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Every year before the parade I make it a point to watch The Molly Maguires the 1970 Sean Connery film shot not far from Scranton. I watch it not so much for the story itself but for the reminder of what daily life was like for those miners and the conditions that they endured.
It is then, when I look at the parade through their eyes that I get a true appreciation of how great it must of felt for these men who spent so much of their life underground to come out on a sunny day in mid-March and celebrate!
Here’s a beautiful story done by a former colleague of mine Mike Stevens of WNEP in 1995 on those coal mining roots on the day they demolished one of the regions many coal breakers.