March 2016

St. Patrick’s Day in the Lowcountry!

Author: Kent Thune

It’s March in the Lowcountry, and that means we’re about to see a lot more green—not just in the grass and on the trees, but on our bodies and in our drinks. March is the time for St. Patrick’s Day and all the green hats, shamrock tattoos, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” buttons, green beer, and good cheer that comes along with the holiday.

But perhaps most important, we get the two best parades of the year: one on Hilton Head Island and the other in Savannah. And if you can’t get enough of the Irish cheer in one place, you can maximize the best of both worlds by attending festivities in both cities.

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Hilton Head Island was founded in 1983 by local business icon, Tom Reilley, along with some friends and family. However, that first parade didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. As the story goes, Reilley and a smallish caravan began the first St. Paddy’s parade on a rainy March day in 1983, starting from Kasey’s Krustaceans (which would later become Remy’s), up Highway 278, to the original location of his Reilley’s pub in the Gallery of Shops. There weren’t many spectators, but one observer, wearing blue instead of green, took particular interest in the procession. This person was a police officer who tried to stop them on charges of parading without a permit.

Fortunately, with a plea of innocence about needing a permit for a parade, along with a bit of Irish luck, the marchers convinced the police officer not to make an arrest. There was to be no encore parade in 1984, but with enough encouragement from supportive and disappointed islanders, Reilley made a more organized effort for the second St. Patrick’s Day parade, which drew 60 entries, in 1985. A new Irish tradition on Hilton Head Island was born!

Today, the annual parade fills quickly with 150 entries or more and spectators numbering near 25,000 people, which is no small feat for a town of approximately 40,000. People line Pope Avenue each year to enjoy floats and marching groups from local businesses, charities, schools, the U.S. Marine Corps Band from Parris Island, bagpipe and drum bands, and the local Shriners with their entertaining antics. Over the years, the parade has also featured the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales and military jet flyovers among other special attractions. And best of all, don’t forget all the fun to be had visiting old friends and making new ones.

Traditionally, the Hilton Head Island Parade is held at 3 p.m., the Sunday prior to St. Patrick’s Day or on the same day as the holiday, when it happens to fall on a Sunday. This year, the holiday falls on a Thursday.

Therefore, the 2016 parade will be held Sunday, March 13. As tradition holds, the parade will begin at Coligny Beach parking lot and will move on to Pope Avenue across from Lagoon Road. It will continue along Pope Avenue, making a left on to Office Park Road and end at Park Plaza.

For planning purposes, keep in mind that Pope Avenue southbound lanes close at 2 p.m. So be sure to arrive between 1-1:45 p.m. to get a good parking space and allow ample time to meet friends and find a place to watch the parade. The parade procession usually lasts a little over one hour.

For those who want to enjoy two parades in the Lowcountry every March, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah is always on St. Patrick’s Day, unless it falls on a Sunday. Savannah’s is more than just a parade; it’s a one-of-a-kind event that nearly rises to the level of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where gigantic parades turn into fun and festive parties. The Irish holiday has become a must-do experience for people around the Lowcountry and from all over the world.

The 192nd St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah will take place Thursday, March 17, 2016 from 10:15 a.m. to about 2 or 2:30 p.m. You can also see green water shooting out of the famous Forsythe Fountain in downtown Savannah. Who knows? Maybe they’ll dye the Savannah river green, like they’ve done before! But the party continues Friday, March 18, when the green beer keeps flowing and the smell of delicious Lowcountry cuisine fills the air on River Street.

Savannah’s parade also comes with great history. The first celebration was held in 1819, after a small group of Hibernians marched in a parade in remembrance of the death of Saint Patrick of Ireland. For history buffs: The Hibernian Society of Savannah was founded in 1812 for the purpose of offering aid and assistance to needy Irish immigrants. They are the oldest of Savannah’s many Irish societies and organizations.

And now Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the largest in the nation, with Savannah ranking second in the U.S., right behind New York, and the third largest in the world. More than 300,000 people are expected to visit and enjoy the city-wide festivities. So pick a spot on the parade route, settle in and watch as bands, floats, horses, carriages, cars and all kinds of groups march in the parade. Just make sure you plan ahead for how you’re going to get there, because parking can be pretty crazy with over 300,000 visitors in town.
Event parking can cost anywhere from $5 to $25 dollars on St. Patrick’s Day, with most of the garages downtown Savannah running at a rate of $20 per vehicle. Visitors who don’t want to park downtown can catch a ride on the Chatham Area Transit (CAT). Busses will be running from the eastside at the Island Towne Centre, Southside at the Savannah Mall or from WestSide Shopping Center to downtown Savannah.

The St. Patrick’s Day Shuttle passes cost $5 and can be purchased at the shuttle locations. Across the river, there will be parking at the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center for $10 per vehicle, which includes a round-trip fare on the Savannah Belles water ferry or CAT Shuttle Service.

For more information on St. Patrick’s Day festivities in the Lowcountry, you can visit online at (notice that’s “,” not “”) and To see a map and find out more about parking, taxis, CAT buses and shuttles in Savannah, visit

Kent Thune, husband of an Irish Island girl, Angela Kelly Beyhan, is a money manager and the owner of a Hilton Head Island investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. He is also a freelance writer and is currently working on a book to be published in 2016. You can follow his musings on mind, money and mastery of life at or on Twitter @ThinkersQuill.

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