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St. Patrick’s Day Parade alternatives: How to celebrate without the controversial procession

Plenty of Irish in Boston

Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is once again a controversial mess.

Long story short: The committee in charge of the parade voted recently to bar a group representing gay veterans from marching in the parade (the group has marched the past two years, after years of controversy about the exclusion of gays from the nation’s premiere St. Patrick’s Day event).

The committee might yet change its mind. For now, sponsors have fled the parade; and elected officials, including Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh, have said they will not participate unless the gay vets group is allowed back in.

So! Here are a few ways to celebrate Irish and Irish-American culture and contributions minus the charged atmosphere of the parade.


Stroll Southie

There’s more to South Boston than the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. No longer quite as Irish-American as it was, the neighborhood remains one of the region’s most vibrant in terms of residents out and about—a friendly, fun peek at how Bostonians live, work, and play nowadays.

In other words, it’s not all gazillion-dollar condos and federal-style townhouses from 1824. We suggest East Broadway or East Sixth Street for a stroll.

Hit the Greenway

Rose Kennedy was the matriarch of one of America’s most prominent families. The 1.5-mile Greenway that winds through much of downtown Boston is named after her (she was a native of the North End and her father was a congressman and mayor).

The Greenway is also a triumph of urban engineering, born of the Big Dig that sank major highways crisscrossing the city and birthed the park and so much else above ground.

Pay homage

Sip Khoon Tan/Flickr

The Irish potato famine in the 1840s is the primary reason there are so many Americans today of Irish descent. The blight, and English indifference to it, touched off a mass migration, and tons of the hundreds of thousands of Irish who emigrated settled in the Boston area.

The Irish Famine Memorial at Washington and School streets memorializes the struggles that the famine wrought (struggles that Ireland’s rigid class structure often exacerbated). Robert Shure sculpted it and the city unveiled it in June 1988.

Hail a particular chief

The Brookline house at 83 Beals Street where JFK was born and raised is a national park and therefore free. Tours should be scheduled at least two weeks in advance, however.

Added bonus of doing so nowadays? 2017 marks the centennial of Kennedy’s birth, so his birthplace is holding special events throughout the year.

Really get your fill of Kennedy

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is the repository for all things related to the nation’s 35th president—and the only one of predominantly Irish descent. Permanent exhibits in the I.M. Pei-designed building include one on the Kennedy clan.

Wander widely

There are signs of the influence of the Irish and of Irish-Americans throughout Boston: in buildings, cemeteries, statues, etc. Wander with our handy map as your guide.