By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Get your green glitter and shamrock sequins ready – Alexandria’s 38th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is returning to King Street this Saturday.
The Ballyshaners, a nonprofit organization that promotes Irish heritage in Alexandria, organizes and hosts the event each year. Regularly held on the first Saturday in March, the parade through Old Town has become a beloved Alexandria tradition.
Each year, the parade features more than 100 parade units of Irish pipe bands, Irish step dancers, girl scout troops and military groups. This year’s parade will feature eight different marching bands – more than it’s ever had, according to Ballyshaners Chair Kim Moore.
“It’s always been a terrific blend of fun for pretty much everybody,” Moore said. “It’s a great family day, and that’s one of the things that we have always appreciated about hosting the event.”
The day kicks off in Market Square with the annual Fun Dog Show, which the Ballyshaners organize in partnership with the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. Starting at 11 a.m., more than 30 festive canines will compete for titles including “Most Creative Costume,” “Best Human/Canine LookAlike,” “Most Talented” and “Most St. Paddy’s Spirit.”
“If there’s not a dog involved somewhere, then it’s just not Old Town,” Moore said.
At 12:30 p.m., the parade will begin its descent down King Street. While Alexandria is home to several successful parades each year, the St. Patrick’s Day celebration is the only one to travel down King Street.
Leading the parade this year will be grand marshal Shawn McLaughlin, president and chief operating officer of McLaughlin Ryder Investments, Inc., and longtime Alexandria resident.
McLaughlin had been recommended for the grand marshal position by Bernadette Troy, widow of Pat Troy, the founder of the parade. Pat Troy died last year at age 76 just days after serving as grand marshal of the 2018 parade with Bernadette.
Moore said the Ballyshaners chose McLaughlin because of his commitment to the community. McLaughlin will be installed as grand marshal at a dinner on Friday night.
“It’s a great honor,” McLaughlin said. “I’m looking forward to great weather and a lot of friends along the parade route and hopefully dressing like an authentic Irishman and doing a lot of smiling. It’ll be a wonderful day, and it’s just the people that are there that make the day special.”
“I’m sure I’m going to indulge in too much shepherd’s pie that day,” he added, “and maybe a little bit of Guinness to wash it down.”
While the parade may be one of Alexandria’s biggest parties, it is also one of its most expensive. Each year, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade costs about $50,000, according to the Ballyshaners’ website. The Ballyshaners work to fundraise year-round with various events, including the annual Alexandria Irish Festival in the summer. This year is also the first year they’ve launched a Go Fund Me page: www.gofundme.com/ballyshaners2019
“We just are immensely grateful to the donors who gave to the Go Fund Me and to the attendees at all of our fundraisers because that also shows the community interest in our event,” Moore said.
The fun is just days away, so be sure to follow the sound of bagpipes to Old Town on Saturday and celebrate Alexandria’s Irish side.
In the words of McLaughlin, “Who doesn’t want to be Irish for at least one day of the year?”