Special Report

The Biggest St. Patrick's Day Parades in America

Time was when St. Patrick’s Day parades held in U.S. cities were events in which Americans of Irish ancestry flexed their Celtic pride and celebrated their place in the American experience. 

That still happens, though today, the annual marches have become a more inclusive rite of spring, like the return of baseball and the blooming of early spring flowers, and a celebration by those who are Irish at least once a year. (Here are Irish foods explained, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.)

To find the US cities with the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades, 24/7 Tempo consulted parade organizations in cities that typically have a significant Irish-American population, various travel sites, media sources, and other lists. We limited our list to parades that claim to attract at least 50,000 spectators for the annual event.

The Florida city of St. Augustine, the oldest city in North America, claims to have hosted the continent’s first St. Patrick’s Day parade, which stepped off in 1601. New York City, which holds the world’s largest parade, with two million spectators, first marched in 1762. In all, 11 cities on our list can trace the origins of their parades from the early and mid-19th century, when Irish immigrants fled their ancestral homeland to escape religious persecution and famine.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in 10 Americans – 31.5 million of us – claim Irish heritage, a number exceeded only by those of German origin. The New England states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine have the highest percentage of those with Irish ancestry. By raw number, though, the states with the most Irish-Americans are the nation’s most populous: California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas. 

Click here for a list of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades in America

Cook County in Illinois has the most residents claiming Irish descent, so it’s not surprising that that county’s largest city, Chicago, hosts the country’s second-biggest parade, and dyes the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day. (These are the 35 most Irish cities in America.)

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