Let Us Drink at Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade!

Why is the city out to kill one of Boston’s most distinct St. Patrick’s Day traditions?

That, of course, was before the city started its crackdown, which has turned the revelers into enforcers and made the parade into a husk of itself. Which is an absolute shame, because the Southie parade is a throwback to a stranger and more authentically local time. The parade grew not in the center of the downtown business district but in the heart of a famously proud and ferociously insular neighborhood that, due to its political clout, often operated as a city within the city where all sorts of normal rules didn’t apply. If you could get away with double- or triple-parking in front of the Dunkie’s on Broadway, it’s not hard to see how some petty open-container violations might be overlooked once a year. And if the locals were generally happy with this arrangement, the rest of the city, for its part, often returned the favor by regarding Southie as a backwater.

As Southie slowly began to shed some of that baggage, it was perhaps inevitable that the parade—and the neighborhood itself—would experience an influx of outsiders who suddenly discovered the heretofore under-appreciated local event. As many longtime Southie residents have found their rents driven through the roof by hordes of yuppies attracted by the great location, the parade has grown from a neighborhood event to a spectacle that draws revelers from across the city and beyond. But the New and Improved South Boston that city leaders want to present to the world doesn’t include bands of situationally Celtic dipsomaniacs staggering down Broadway in mid-afternoon. And let’s face it, there isn’t much of a lobby here for drunken-buffoonery, even of the largely harmless kind that has characterized the parade.


Listen: we can find a balance between law and order and a good time. There’s nothing wrong, for example, with setting aside “family-friendly zones” where milder sorts can take in the quirky procession. (Exactly how Irish is a group that includes Darth Vader and several dozen storm troopers? Who cares!) Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is a place where everything is arranged around the needs and desires of families with young children, where drinking is done guiltily and furtively out of sight. We call it “Hingham.” But can’t we have a few family-unfriendly zones as well? Places where corned-beef-and-Budweiser breakfasts on a sidewalk are acceptable, or at least overlooked?  I’m not calling for a year-round, French Quarter–style open-container zone, but come on: let us have our Irish Mardi Gras once a year.

Southie is already well on the way to becoming yet another astronomically priced yuppie bolthole, and the parade, with all of its errant mayhem, is one of the few living links to our past as a city. We need to keep it. I’m quite aware that it’s unlikely that we’ll see an official sanction for our distinguished local tradition, but, really, all we need is for the city to practice a little forbearance and bust people for getting out of hand, not simply for drinking a Harp out of a red cup a few steps from their doorway. That’d require common sense—and maybe the luck of the Irish.

  • Chris

    To me, a german, the american drinking laws will always be incomprehensible. How is it acceptable that folks old enough to drive/join the army/own a gun etc are beeing criminalized for having a beer? Heck, I even met ppl that werent allowed to drink on their own wedding…
    Even worse: Penalizing the designated driver for helping his drinking friends out is almost a request for drunk driving in the future.

    Having said that, I do like the idea of spacious “family zones” at parades.

    Family-unfriendly zones are a briliant idea to not spoil the fun for the rest. It works for outside areas of bars, so why not for an outside event?

  • Hingham Spy

    Colin, I loved your article, but frankly you have no idea what you are talking about when you suggest that “there is a place where everything is arranged around the needs and desires of families with young children, where drinking is done guiltily and furtively out of sight. We call it Hingham.” My friend, I invite you down to any of the restaurants and bars in Hingham any day of the week and you will see a town’s-worth of errant mayhem and drunk numbskulls, albeit wealthy ones…

  • KdNicewanger

    Isn’t there a swingers bar in Hingham where you leave your keys out on the bar top as a signal? (Apparently we’ve made no advancements in that area in 40 years.)

    Anyway, Brian McGrory has Hingham-bashing pretty much covered already.