March 2010

Hilton Head Island is Going Green: Don’t miss the 27th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Author: Michele Roldán-Shaw

There’s one day a year when “going green” doesn’t mean recycling or eating organic—it means attending the annual Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade! All the revelry without the drive to Savannah, Hilton Head’s beloved street party is now in its 27th year and more popular than ever.

“It’s just a great family-friendly event,” said parade co-chairperson Kim Capin, who became involved with the parade over twenty years ago when she started selling balloons along the parade route. “It’s almost like a rite of passage for the coming of spring. It’s an outdoor event, the college kids are back in town, and historically, it’s always been a beautiful day.”

Many local business people share her enthusiasm, especially the proprietors of eateries and watering holes on the south end of the island. “Parade Day is a great event that brings out kids and families and gives them something to do together,” said Brendan Reilley, owner of Aunt Chiladas Easy Street Café. “We look forward to it every year.”

Besides creating a celebratory atmosphere that spectators enjoy, the parade is a boon to local business owners, who cater to massive crowds with food and outdoor festivities. Dianne Crowley, owner of Wild Wing Café, has been doing Irish-Fest for 19 years—a post-parade party that tends to go late into the night. She hosts live music out in the parking lot, drawing such a crowd that it has consistently been the restaurant’s biggest day of the year.

“What I love about it is that it attracts people of all ages, from all walks of life,” said Crowley, who has actively supported the parade for 23 years. “There are families, people with their dogs—everybody’s outside listening to music and having a great time. I mean, how many times a year do you get to wear a giant green foam hat?”

For Crowley, the parade is also a reminder of times gone by. “It’s one of those Hilton Head traditions that, to me, is a throwback to the old days when everyone was a neighbor and everything was just fun,” she said, emphasizing the fact that a free event is always welcome during tough economic times.

The local parade was founded in 1983 by Tom Reilley, who took the advice of a visiting restaurateur from Kansas City. “He said, ‘You’re the only Irish bar on Hilton Head…if you start one, you have no idea how big it will get,’” Reilley recalled. So he rounded up 20 or 30 people, got the fire department involved, and led a madcap march despite the rainy weather.

“We had a blast,” said Reilley, who eventually formed an all-volunteer committee and got non-profit status for the parade. “We only marched about a quarter of a mile, and halfway through, the police started following us because we didn’t have a permit. They actually arrested one guy and put him in the car, but he said, ‘Are you really going to arrest someone because of a parade?’ So ultimately, they let him go.”

Just as the Kansas City man predicted, the parade went on to achieve grand proportions; it now draws crowds 20,000 strong and has garnered the participation of such entities as the Marine Corps band, the Clydesdales, the Shriners of Savannah and Charleston, the Chicago Police Department Bagpipe and Drum Band, and even the Prime Minister of Tourism from Ireland.

The happy-go-lucky vibe that surrounds St. Patrick’s Day stands in stark contrast to the more somber religious tradition in which the holiday is rooted. Many people associate St. Patrick with the folk legend of snakes being driven out of Ireland. But the real-life story of St. Patrick is nearly as dramatic.

Sometime during his early teenage years, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave. For six years he was forced to herd sheep, and during this time, his Christian faith grew until at last he heard a voice saying his captivity would be over soon. According to a letter written by St. Patrick sometime during the 4th or 5th century A.D., he escaped to a seaport 200 miles away and boarded a ship home to Britain. Several years later, he had a vision which he interpreted as a calling back to Ireland so that he could work as a missionary; now he is the most widely-recognized patron saint of the Emerald Isle.

Here in the United States, however, most people just see his feast day as a chance to wear green, feel Irish and party. Thankfully, Hilton Head Island’s all-volunteer parade committee is dedicated to putting on an event where all three of these actions are appropriate.

“We do it because we love this parade,” said Capin. “We want people to come out and have a good time, take their trash with them, watch their children and help us have a safe, fun day.”

The 27th Annual Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be held, rain or shine, on Sunday, March 14 at 3 p.m. The parade will enter Pope Avenue from the public beach parking lot and proceed up Pope Avenue to the second traffic light, where it will turn onto Office Park Road and conclude at Park Plaza. For more information, visit

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