Lexington St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival
Snapped: 2016 St. Patrick’s Festival and Parade. The color green could be seen for blocks along Main Street in downtown Lexington during the 37th annual St. Patrick’s festival and parade. The events celebrated the heritage and culture of the Irish and featured musicians, dancers, pipers, storytellers and customary Irish food and drink. Photo by Rob Bolson Herald-Leader/Kentucky.com

The annual Lexington St. Patrick’s Parade and Festival is sponsored by the Bluegrass Irish Society and produced by Lexington Parks and Recreation. It is the longest running civic event in Lexington.

Parade History

Irish-American immigrants brought Saint Patrick’s Day to the United States.  The first civic and public celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day in the 13 colonies took place in Boston, Massachusetts in 1737.  The first celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day in New York City was held at the Crown and Thistle Tavern in 1756.  In 1780, General George Washington, who commanded soldiers of Irish descent in the Continental Army, allowed his troops a holiday on March 17.  This event became known as “The St. Patrick’s Day Encampment of 1780.

The first Lexington St. Patrick's Day Parade
The first Lexington St. Patrick’s Day Parade with grand marshal Ed McMahon.

Today, Saint Patrick’s Day is widely celebrated in the United States by Irish and non-Irish alike.  Many people, regardless of ethnic background, wear green-colored clothing and items.

The Bluegrass Irish Society was formed in 1980 and initiated the St. Patrick’s parade as its first activity.  The parade gained instant credibility when then Governor John Y. Brown and first lady Phyllis George Brown co-sponsored it and arranged to have Ed McMahon from the Johnny Carson Show to be our first Grand Marshal.  The rest, as they say, is history.

We’ve made history, too.  In 2007, the Irish Government approved the Irish Army Pipe Band to lead a parade in the United States.  It was a great honor for them to choose Lexington from all the invitations they receive.  We were in competition with major cities where they have performed in the past such as Boston, Chicago, New York and Savannah.

Community Support

Lexington St. Patrick's Day Parade
Dr. Seamus Carey, president of Transylvania University, served as the 2016 parade grand marshal.

The parade committee has received tremendous support from the media over the years.  We have been fortunate to have had the support of every mayor and administration since 1980.

The Bluegrass Irish Society is proud of its record of honoring individuals and organizations for their contributions to our community by naming them Grand Marshals of the parade.  Recent honorees include:

  • Bill Enright, founder of the Lexington St. Patrick’s Parade 
  • Ginny Ramsey, Catholic Action Center
  • Dr. Seamus Carey, president of Transylvania University
  • Tom Hammond, sportscaster
  • Dr. Pearse Lyons, an Irish immigrant, whose Alltech company has created thousands of jobs and who sponsored the Alltech 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games
  • Pat Smith, Habitat for Humanity volunteer
  • Bill Greeley, Keenland president
  • John Nicholson, Kentucky Horse Park executive director
  • Gene Hackman, actor
  • Jack Pattie, radio personality and community volunteer
  • Sister Michael Leo, president of St. Joseph Hospital
  • Isabel Yates, former LFUCG Vice Mayor and community volunteer; founder of the Sister City Program
  • Ed McMahon, TV star and Marine Corps Aviator
  • John R. Gaines, Horseman and founder of the Breeders Cup
  • John Y. Brown, Kentucky Governor,  founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken
  • Jim Amato, Mayor of Lexington
  • Judy McLaughlin, Co-founder Bluegrass Irish Society
  • Ed Houlihan, Lexington Sister Cities
  • Dr. Michael Osborne, Internationally renowned horseman
  • Valerie McGovern, UK graduate, international track and field star
  • Maj. Gen. Patrick Nowlan, Deputy Commandant, Irish Defense Forces
  • Lexington Police and Firefighters and their families
  • Special Olympians
  • Military units from Central Kentucky that have been mobilized for service in the Middle East.

We think it is important to honor these individuals and organizations.

Over the years, tens of thousands of Central Kentuckians have long shared in the parade and many more have enjoyed watching it.  We have avoided having vendors, food and beverage booths, etc. along the parade route in order to provide a hassle free fun environment for families to enjoy the first major event of the Spring in the Bluegrass.

Anyone who has had the privilege of riding down the street and looking into the faces along the parade route, especially the children, knows why the Bluegrass Irish Society has put all the effort into it, and is willing to continue to provide it free to the community.

Parade Philosophy

Our goal is to provide a community activity for all to enjoy and/or in which to participate.  We delight in having children’s groups, community organizations, animal units and musical activities in the parade.  We do not wish to provide incentive for organizations to invest in expensive, elaborate floats.  Rather we suggest donating that money to an available charity and come down Main Street with a flat bed or pick up truck decorated with green cardboard and crepe paper and play some music and wave to the kids.

While the parade honors the contributions that the Irish people have made to Lexington and Kentucky in general, it is not just for the Irish.  In each of the previous years we have made a point of inviting groups from across our community to come and celebrate their roots with the Irish.

The parade has turned into a community wide celebration that has been both fun and beneficial to the business community including restaurants, bars, clothing stores, beverage distribution companies, etc.  Before 1980, there were no St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the city other than the parade.  Along with the Sister Cities Organization and other activities, the parade has boosted cultural exchanges and tourism for both Ireland and Central Kentucky.