September’s St. Patrick’s Parade to honor frontline workers

In a year marked by rising and falling cycles of COVID-19, it seems fitting to honor the people who have pressed on through hardships — heading to work each day throughout the pandemic, providing essential services for others, and helping to keep the economy chugging along.

That’s why organizers of this weekend’s Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade chose to honor all the region’s frontline workers instead of selecting a single grand marshal.

The parade, which is set to step off at 11 a.m. Saturday, was moved to September after the March event was canceled due to concerns about COVID-19. But with more people getting vaccinated across Massachusetts and the state lifting restrictions on public gatherings in May, the event was rescheduled.

So, on Saturday, when spectators gather along Route 28, they’ll get a chance to thank the frontline workers who have played such a critical role in all our lives.

It’s not just the police, fire, and EMS first-responders said Parade Committee Chairman Desmond Keogh. It’s grocery workers, UPS, FedEx, and U.S. Postal Service employees. It’s the tradespeople who worked on your cars and fixed things in your house; employees who cleaned the floors and cooked meals in nursing homes and hospitals; those who delivered food and groceries; and all the essential workers who went to their jobs every day and kept the economy going through the ups-and-downs of COVID-19.

“These people were putting themselves in danger, above and beyond what their job description was,” Keogh explained. “They faced their work every day, dealing with the unknown aspects of COVID. And that’s what our goal is — to honor all of them.”

Amid the traditional pipe bands, color guard units, and civic groups, Saturday’s parade will include nurses, grocery store workers, and other essential employees. Think Shaw’s and Star Market, Stop & Shop, The Mass. Nurses Association, Cape Cod Healthcare, the Yarmouth Senior Services, and more.

“This is huge,” Keogh said. “You’re going to have the workers walking, and the families will see them walking, and so you’ll have a lot of stopping and waving at each other as people say thank you to this year’s honorees.” He said the myriad groups might slow down the pace a bit, but he still expects the parade to wrap up in less than two hours.


September was the right month for rescheduling the popular event because it wasn’t in the middle of summer, said Parade Committee Chairman Desmond Keogh. “It was just a good time to support Cape Cod businesses and Yarmouth businesses in particular.”

Organizers ruled out Labor Day weekend, then decided against Sept. 11 because that was a day for reflecting on lives lost to the terrorist attacks 20 years ago. Planners settled on Sept. 18, and by coincidence, that weekend actually marks the mid-point in the year between last St. Patrick’s Day and the next one.

The parade committee also decided this year was a good time to reward those who have supported the event for the past 15 years, allowing floats that advertise local businesses to participate for free. Keogh said the response from businesses and the community has been strong, and people are looking forward to a chance to cheer and feel normal again.


Beyond the essential workers, there will be bands, motorcycles, dog handlers, Scouts, athletic teams, civic groups, and marching units. All told, organizers have registered more than 60 groups to march in the parade, and there are a few surprise additions coming in at the last minute, Keogh said.

Highlights include Clydesdales, stilt-walkers, and three pipe bands — the Irish American Police Officers Association Pipes and Drums, the Boston Police Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums, and the Highland Light Scottish Pipe Band. The Brewster Whitecaps will be present, along with their Cape Cod League 2021 championship trophy; the Mass. State Police Mounted Unit will be riding on horseback; Big Nick’s Riders for the Fallen will be on motorcycles and Jeeps decorated with American flags. Other marchers include multiple police color guard units, the Yarmouth Minutemen, Pirates of Cape Cod, Cape Cod Marine Corps League, and WROL radio in Boston, which will broadcast live from a truck along the parade route. Even Freeman Johnson, the 101-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor who marched in the 2020 parade, said he wants to return and walk at least part of the route, Keogh noted.

“I said you’re absolutely welcome.”

Last year’s parade drew an estimated 65,000 to 75,000 people, but Keogh said he’s hesitant to predict the turnout this weekend. Attendance could be anywhere from 20,000 to more than 50,000 he said, depending on the weather. As of Wednesday, the forecast was looking good — a mix of sun and clouds, with temperatures in the 70s.

Whatever the turnout, next year’s parade will return to its normal season in early March. Keogh said organizers are already planning the 2022 event while working out the final details for Saturday. Find out more at the Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade website.

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What: Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade.
Saturday, Sept. 18, at 11 a.m.
Where: The parade route starts near Skull Island at the intersection of Route 28 and Long Pond Drive in South Yarmouth, and heads west along Route 28 to Higgins Crowell Road in West Yarmouth.
Safety: Masks are not required as the parade is outdoors, but spectators can choose whether to wear them when gathering along the route.
Marching units may be spaced a little farther apart, so the parade might take a few minutes longer to finish. Still, the 2-mile walk should take less than two hours and be over before 1 p.m.
Some media have reported the parade begins at 8 a.m., but that’s just when the staging area opens for marchers at Skull Island. The actual parade steps off at 11 a.m.
More info online:

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Sponsored in Part by the Town of Yarmouth Tourism Revenue Preservation Fund.

Andy Tomolonis is a textbook author, travel writer, and freelance multimedia journalist.

Photo credit: Teplansky Photography (photos #2, 3, and 4)

Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade

In addition to celebrating all things Irish, this year’s Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade will offer the emotional opportunity to honor some living heroes from World War II.

The special tribute to America’s Greatest Generation has been a long time coming, said Parade Committee Chairman Desmond Keogh.

“We always wanted to honor our veterans in a very special way,” he said. Because this year marks the 75th anniversary of the end World War II, as well as the 15th anniversary of the Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade, it was fitting, he explained. The tribute also encompasses the parade’s theme of Embracing Awareness, Empowerment and Unity.

“We owe so much to our veterans – none more so than World War II veterans, the Greatest Generation,” Keogh said.

Parade organizers have been corresponding with veterans’ organizations on and off Cape Cod, and as of mid-February Keogh said, he received confirmations that seven World War II veterans will participate in the parade, including one gentleman who is 100 years old. He said more WWII veterans may be joining the ranks, as he continues to reach out in the coming weeks. The parade date is March 7.

A few of the World War II veterans have stated that they wish to march in the parade and will do so for at least part of the 2.1 mile route, barring any health issues, Keogh said. Others will ride in a special trolley car at the front of the parade. Keogh said the entire contingent of World War II veterans will be designated as this year’s official grand marshals, leading the parade, followed by veterans from later wars and their organizations.

The World War II veterans will be honored on the eve of the parade as well, during the Grand Marshal Awards presentation dinner at Alberto’s Restaurant in Hyannis. The evening will include awards for the veterans, along with scholarship awards to local students, Keogh said. Find more information about the parade, the dinner and fundraising events at the Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade website.

Scheduling the Yarmouth parade a full 10 days before St. Patrick’s Day allows revelers to celebrate on Cape Cod for one weekend and then travel to Boston or elsewhere for more festivities the following weekend. It also allows the Cape Cod parade to attract high-demand bands and marching groups who might be locked into other events on the weekend closer to March 17.

Parade organizers are still receiving inquiries from potential marchers, but Keogh said he expects some 600 participants and 40,000 or more spectators at this year’s event. He said more information – and some surprises – will be reveled on the Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade website.

Among the confirmed participants are at least 20 floats, eight marching bands, including the Boston Police Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums, the NYPD Pipes and Drums, the Irish American Police Officers Association of Pipes and Drums, the Brian Boru Pipe Band, and the Barnstable High School Marching Band. Also participating in the parade: The Yarmouth and Falmouth Minutemen, Clydesdales, the Snow Queen and Princess, and the Yarmouth Barnstable Lions Club (with their 12-foot tall inflatable float Dan D. Lion). Keogh said there are also numerous community groups from across Cape Cod. The parade begins at 11 a.m. from the Bass River Sports World complex on Route 28 and proceeds westward for 2.1 miles along Route 28 to the intersection of Higgins Crowell Road.

Last year’s Cape Cod St. Patrick’s Parade paid a special tribute to slain Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon, with the late officer’s canine companion Nero marching alongside Grand Marshal Peter B. McClelland, the Yarmouth Police K9 officer who trained the dog and nursed him back to health.

“We on the Parade Committee made a conscious decision to honor people who are the real heroes in our community,” Keogh said in an email. “People have really embraced this, as is borne out by the thousands (and growing numbers) who show up in any weather each year.”

Keogh noted that the “parade is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds, getting bigger every year.” He said it is now viewed as one of the premier parades in New England, drawing people from all over Cape Cod and beyond. Many visitors reserve their hotel rooms and other accommodations a year in advance, and local hotels have stepped up to offer St. Patrick’s Parade weekend discounts for the weekend of March 7-8.

The Aiden by Best Western at Cape Point and the Bayside Resort are offering special parade weekend packages beginning at roughly $99 per night. Find out more at the hotels’ websites.

Yarmouth Irish Festival

Parade day is also the date for Yarmouth’s annual Irish Festival – a family celebration with Irish food, crafts, music and entertainment, held at the old Yarmouth Drive-In site on Route 28 (across from Captain Parker’s Pub). Festival organizer Patrick McDonough said the event offers celebrants a chance to turn Yarmouth’s popular parade day into an even larger event – ultimately staying overnight and driving home on Sunday.

This year’s festival will add an element of comedy in the form of Boston funnyman Steve Sweeney. He’ll be performing in a lineup that includes Irish music from Devri, The Silver Spears, Keohane and Kenneally, Slainte and DJ Sean O’Toole. The event will be held under a large heated tent to keep revelers warm in any weather, McDonough said.

The Yarmouth Irish Festival begins at 11 a.m., with gates opening at 10 a.m. Parking is available at the old Drive-In site. Admission is $5 (advance) and $10 at the gate. Children under the age of 12 are admitted free. Find more information at the Yarmouth Irish Festival website.

Andy Tomolonis is a nonfiction author, travel writer and multimedia journalist.