Allentown St. Patrick’s Day Parade: The Lehigh Valley’s Oldest Irish Celebration

By Liz Reph

The Allentown St. Patrick’s Day Parade will celebrate its 57th year on Sunday, March 23rd. This year’s participants include nine traditional Irish pipe bands, various schools of the Lehigh Valley, the classic cars of America on Wheels, Lehigh Valley Veterans for Peace, the Allentown Corvette Club, O’Grady Quinlan Academy of Irish Dance and Antique Tractors and Toy Club. In total, more than ninety groups featuring a wide range of music, floats and entertainment will participate.

As part of the Lehigh Valley’s oldest Irish celebration, the parade’s roots trace back to the turn of the 20th century when a group of Irish immigrants living in Allentown’s Sixth Ward began holding informal St. Patrick’s Day festivities. At the time, the majority of the neighborhood’s Irish immigrant population worshipped at the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Ridge Avenue (the oldest Catholic church in the Lehigh Valley) and socialized at the Hibernia Fire Station, also on Ridge Avenue.  After the St. Patrick’s Day Mass, crowds of people would parade from the church, throughout the Sixth Ward neighborhoods, and on to the fire station.

In the mid-1950s, in an effort to transition into more formalized celebrations, a group of local business and political leaders established the St. Patrick’s Day Observance Society.  Thanks in part to their work, by 1958 the parade was large enough to march the route from 12th and Hamilton Streets to the Immaculate Conception Church – a distance of nearly two miles.

But despite the initial growth and success, by the early 1970s the parade was facing serious threats to its continued existence.  The death of several key Observance Society members, coupled with a crippling national gas crisis that started in the fall of 1973, left the parade at risk of cancellation. It was only at the last minute that a small group of First and Sixth Ward citizens stepped up and, with the help of Mayor Joseph Daddona, organized the 1974 parade in less than six weeks – thus saving its reputation as Allentown’s longest continuously running parade.

In 2008, to ease logistics for children participating in the parade, the route was moved from Hamilton Street to its current route in the West End Theater District.  In recent years the festivities have also been expanded to include more community-centered events and activities, such as an Allentown school-wide “Spirit of St. Patrick’s Day Parade” poster contest (the winners of which are featured in the commemorative parade book) and the “Remember the Famine” food drive, which is named in reference to the great Irish potato famine of the late 1840s and supports Second Harvest Food Bank of the Lehigh Valley.

“The parade and its events are entirely privately funded,” explained John Chaya, President of the Allentown St. Patrick’s Parade Committee, Inc. “Everything we do is intended as a presentation to the community, and we’re honored to continue to share our culture and heritage.”

Pre-Parade Festivities:

Saturday, March 15th – St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl: An evening of food and drinks sponsored by approximately ten West End pubs and restaurants, including Jack Callaghan’s Ale House, Greg’s West End Saloon, Roosevelt’s 21st and Volpe’s Sports Bar Restaurant on Tilghman Street.  The Pub Crawl is the parade’s largest fundraiser.

Friday, March 21st – Coronation Celebration:  Held in the Agricultural Hall Annex at the Allentown Fairgrounds, this event includes the crowning of this year’s king and queen (Sean and Kimberly Gallagher) and traditional Irish dancing by The O’Grady Quinlan Academy of Irish Dance.  An Irish buffet dinner will be served starting at 6 p.m.  Cost is $15/person for entrance.  The buffet is $15/adult, $8 children, 11-16 and $5 children, 10 and under.

Saturday, March 22nd – First Annual Irish Community Day: New to this year’s celebration, the first annual “Irish Community Day” is a family-friendly cultural event featuring interactive presentations including a traditional Irish social – known as a céilí – Irish dance lessons, a fiddle exhibit and a Gaelic language translator.  Held in the Agricultural Hall Annex, admission is free to the public.

Parade Day Schedule

(Sunday, March 23rd):

9 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Irish Breakfast: Served in the Agricultural Hall Annex, the menu includes traditional Irish fare such as scrambled eggs, Irish sausage and Irish pastries.  Tickets are $10/person, advance
purchase only.

9:15 a.m. – Catholic Mass:  As part of the “Ethnic Religious Roots” celebration, Mass will be held at the historic Immaculate Conception Church (501 Ridge Ave., Allentown).  During the service the statue of St. Patrick, which is traditionally carried at the head of the parade, will be presented and blessed.

12 p.m. – 5K Run: This year’s race includes 900 participants who will compete along the same route as the parade. Proceeds benefit the West End Alliance, a not-for-profit group dedicated to the continued development of the West End Theater District.

1 p.m. – Grand Massed Pipe Band Exhibition: The nine traditional Irish pipe bands will perform together prior to the start of the parade.  The bands will form up in the field across from the Allentown Fairgrounds and then march to the intersection of Liberty and 19th Street.  Once the parade concludes, each band will continue to perform outside the West End businesses that participated in the Pub Crawl.

1:30 p.m. – St. Patrick’s Day Parade: Parade departs the Allentown Fairgrounds at 17th and Liberty Street, heads west on Liberty to 19th, north on 19th to Tilghman, west on Tilghman to 25th, south on 25th to Liberty, and east on Liberty back to the Fairgrounds.  During the parade members of the Minsi Trail Council Boy Scouts and volunteers from the Pennsylvania National Guard will collect donations for the “Remember the Famine”
food drive.

For more information or to purchase tickets to events, please visit

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