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Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day

Salt Lake saluted the Irish Saturday in true American fashion: by holding a St. Patrick's Day parade down 300 South with a cosmopolitan cast of entrants ranging from the Great Basin Land Rover's Club to the Utah Ironworkers to the Disgusting Brothers Band singing "Brown Eyed Girl" to the Blessed Sacrament School singing "We will, we will, rock you" to the Salt Lake Mothers of Twins Club to the Mountain Men of Utah to the Worldwide Marriage Encounter to the Utah Guide Dogs.

All of them wearin' shades of green.

It wasn't downtown Dublin, it wasn't even close.

But as the Irish would say, So what?

The Irish have a talent for finding a reason to throw a party. The Americans have a talent for finding a reason to show up.

My second favorite scene in the annual Salt Lake St. Patrick's Day parade was a float overflowing with Hispanic adults and children from Our Lady of Guadalupe church all wearing green and shouting out in unison, "Happy St. Patrick's Day!"

It was Irish-only.

Then, right behind the Our Lady of Guadalupe singers came the Wasatch Irish Setter Fanciers. Thirteen beautiful Irish Setters, towing along 13 humans.

And behind that, a sign saying "Life's Too Short Not To Be Irish."

My first favorite scene in the annual Salt Lake St. Patrick's Day parade was the black horse led riderless down the parade route.

It was a memorial tribute to my friend John Mooney, longtime Salt Lake Tribune sports editor and even longer-time Irishman. Mooney died last year after a rich and full life during which he never embarrassed but only enhanced his Irish roots. He was always throwing parties.

And it was a good thing for the horse that the late, great Irishman was only figuratively in the saddle.

Along the parade route I bumped into a real bona fide Irishman. From New York City.

I asked if he'd seen the fabulous St. Patrick's Day parades they hold every year in New York and he said "aye."

Then I asked him how Salt Lake's parade stacks up to New York's parade.

"In New York," he answered diplomatically, "there are more bands and more cops."

But probably not a whole lot more entries. In the last few years especially, Salt Lake's Irish parade has grown enormously. Saturday, nearly 200 floats, schools, marching clubs, motorcycle clubs, Irish clans, labor unions, radio stations, marching bands and waving politicians made up the procession.

All in loose tribute to a superstar Welsh-born Catholic missionary to Ireland who, after finding religion, changed his name from Maewyn to Patrick.

So not only wasn't St. Patrick really Irish, he also wasn't really Patrick.

Little could Maewyn/Patrick have known when he died on March 17, 461, the worldwide party he was about to start.

For the first few centuries it was a simple Catholic holiday, strong on sermons and scripture and short on frivolity.

But times have changed.

St. Patrick's Day has grown to the point that it has become the only national holiday given almost universal recognition outside its native land.

From Australia to America and all points in between, people wear green, pinch those who don't, dance Irish jigs, toast the luck of the Irish, sing "Irish Eyes Are Smiling," watch parades, and throw Irish parties every March 17.

Hand it to them. The Irish may have historically had their troubles getting along with each other, but they get along with everyone else just fine.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 237-2527.