A Brief History of the Huntsville's St. Patrick's Day Parade
The Early Years
Ellen McAnelly, of Galway, Ireland, opened Finnegan's Pub on South Parkway in 1977. Ellen was the originator and sponsor of Huntsville's St. Patrick's Day Parade, consequently, the first one was held in 1978.
The parade became famous for being the smallest such parade in the nation. Here is a picture showing the original participants. There were only 18 people marching with flags; no vehicles. The picture shows only 17 people because one gentleman had slipped away from work to be in the parade and did not want to be in the photograph! The novelty of being the smallest St. Patrick's Day Parade in the US attracted attention and media coverage, and consequently there were more and more participants each year. For most of those early years, the route was south from (just north of) Finnegan's along the Memorial Pkwy access road, under the "Useless Overpass," north along the access road and under the Drake Avenue Overpass, and south back to Finnegan's. The parade has always been held on March 17th, unless the 17th falls on Sunday, in which case the parade is held on the 16th. For the early years, Dan Moran, pictured here, was the chief parade organizer.
1993 to 2011
Sonnie Hereford joined the parade planning committee in 1993, representing the local Notre Dame Club. Sonnie would always bring a laptop to the meetings for taking notes, consequently, everyone assumed Sonnie was very organized. When Dan Moran passed away in 1995, Sonnie was asked to take over as chief parade organizer. Sonnie served in that role beginning with the parade in 1996.
In 1997, on Friday, March 14th, three days before the parade was scheduled to take place, the parade committee was notified Huntsville Mayor Loretta Spencer had denied the parade permit. The Mayor cited safety concerns expressed by the Huntsville Police Dept. Apparently, for the previous year's parade, there were several fender-benders caused by motorists on the Memorial Parkway overpasses paying more attention to the parade than to the traffic! So on that Friday, Huntsville media and parade entries were notified the Huntsville St. Patrick's Day Parade was cancelled for 1997. But on Saturday morning, March 15th, Madison Mayor Chuck Yancura called Sonnie and offered to host the parade in Madison. Sonnie drove immediately to meet Chuck and scout out the route Chuck recommended. Finding the route to be perfect, Sonnie proceeded to contact the Huntsville media and all parade entries to tell them things were back on, with a new location. That 1997 parade, in Madison, was one of the biggest and best ever! Due to the parade being held outside of Huntsville that year, the name was officially changed to "Madison County's St. Patrick's Day Parade."
Beginning in 1998, the parade was moved to its present downtown Huntsville route, which has assuaged HPD safety concerns.
With the passing of Ellen McAnelly in June of 2009, the parade was again officially renamed to the "Ellen McAnelly Memorial St. Patrick's Day Parade." Ellen's sister Nancy Moore, who lives in Vancouver, BC, became the owner of Finnegan's and the sponsor of the parade.
2011 to Present
In late 2010, Sonnie approached the newly-formed Irish Society of North Alabama (ISNA), which was led by Michael and Lisa Bollinger, and asked them to consider having ISNA take over the parade. ISNA immediately agreed! So ISNA understudied Sonnie on the planning for and execution of the 2011 parade. Beginning in 2012, ISNA has organized and coordinated the Ellen McAnelly Memorial St. Patrick's Day Parade, with Sonnie serving as a "consultant." ISNA has done a tremendous job and their excellent work continues.
Unfortunately, Finnegan's closed its doors in 2013 and will consequently no longer be involved with the parade.
Ellen McAnelly's St. Patrick's Day Parade has been held every year starting on March 17th, 1978 and has never been rained out! There was one year when the rain began to fall the instant the last parade entry completed the route and exited the Parkway, ending the parade. Coincidence? I think not!
-- Sonnie Hereford
For more information on the details of some of our past parades, check out the archive page.