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6 Best Saint Patrick’s Day Celebrations Off the Beaten Path

Communities across the nation get in the spirit of Saint Patrick's Day with parades, festivals, concerts and more green-clad traditions.

By Jessica Mozo on March 6, 2014

Savannah / Photo Courtesy of Brittany Anas

Saint Patrick’s Day may be a celebration of Irish culture, but cities all over the United States have adopted the festive, green-clad holiday as their own. 

Boston and New York City take the prize for the longest-running public Saint Patrick’s Day parades in the country, marching since 1737 and 1762, respectively. In Chicago, the Irish comprise one of the largest ethnic groups in the city, and every year they dye the Chicago River green and host a parade downtown. Thousands gather along the riverbanks to witness boats releasing green dye into the river.

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But it’s not just the big cities that know how to party like leprechauns. Here are the best off-the-beaten-path Saint Patrick’s Day festivities that unite residents and garner attention for smaller communities:

1. Savannah, Georgia

Savannah’s charming historic downtown sets the stage for the city’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, a highly anticipated annual event among residents and visitors alike. A tradition since 1824, the three-hour parade features more than 350 entries, including Irish dancers, bagpipers, award-winning bands and several U.S. military divisions. A Catholic celebration of Mass at the breathtaking Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist precedes the parade. Savannah has also been known to dye its many fountains green.

2. Rolla, Missouri

The small Midwest town of Rolla hosts one of Missouri’s oldest and most celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day parades, which began in 1908. It kicks off with citizens gathering at the crack of dawn to paint Pine Street (the parade route) green. Community volunteers apply water-based green paint with large mops and buckets in preparation for the 11 a.m. parade. After the parade, there’s a celebration with live bands, a beer garden, food, a coronation and knighting ceremony, and the St. Pat’s Grand Ball.

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3. Dublin, Ohio

Thousands of people in central Ohio spend Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin, home of the “Greenest, Grandest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.” The day begins with the Lion’s Club Pancake Breakfast, followed by the Inflation Celebration, where spectators can watch giant parade balloons come alive. The Greenest, Grandest St. Patrick’s Day Parade then marches through historic Dublin, with more than 100 parade units displaying their Irish attitudes.

4. Butte, Montana

Butte, Montana’s mining heritage attracted a large population of Irish immigrants, and they’ve hosted a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration since 1882. The festivities bring visitors from all over the world and literally double the city’s population for the day. More than 30,000 people descend on Butte’s Historic Uptown District for a parade led by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Afterward, they visit local bars such as Maloney’s (don’t miss the leprechaun squatting on the rooftop) and the Silver Dollar Saloon to indulge in corned beef and cabbage and green beer.

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5. Columbia, South Carolina

More than 40,000 Irish wannabes flock to the Five Points business district in Columbia, S.C., the weekend before Saint Patrick’s Day for an annual street festival that celebrates “all things green and Gaelic.” The festivities begin with a 10K/5K/Family Fun Run, followed by the St. Pat’s Parade, Pot O’ Gold Playland (for the little ones), live music on four stages and Shaggin’ on Santee, which honors South Carolina’s state dance.

6. Emerald Isle, North Carolina

The tiny town of Emerald Isle, N.C., celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day in a big way every year with its Annual Emerald Isle St. Patrick’s Festival. The all-day event includes 75 arts and crafts vendors, clowns, a beer garden, petting zoo, amusement rides, face painters, a climbing wall, and food vendors selling corned beef and cabbage, shrimp burgers, funnel cakes and cotton candy. A highlight of the celebration is The Little Ms. & Mr. Leprechaun Contest for kids ages 5 and under.

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