Flashback Friday: St. Paul hosts Minnesota's first St. Patrick's Day parade 169 years ago

It was a St. Patrick's Day unlike any other this past week due to Gov. Tim Walz's order shuttering bars, restaurants and other businesses to fight the spread of COVID-19.

But St. Patrick's Day 169 years ago was unlike any other up to that point, too.

On March 17, 1851, St. Paul hosted the state's first St. Patrick's Day parade, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Irish immigration in the city peaked four decades later, but many Irish had already settled in town.

MHS says the state's first Irish residents were actually soldiers stationed at Fort Snelling, but by 1890 when Irish immigration to St. Paul peaked, over 28,000 Irish immigrants had settled in the state.

Prior to 1851, a St. Patrick's Day parade likely would've seemed … well, about as weird as St. Patrick's Day seemed without a parade and widespread celebration this past Tuesday.

According to the archives of the St. Paul newspapers The Pioneer and Democrat and The Saint Paul Daily Press, by 1862, a chief marshal and his aids were named and would lead people in a procession to the Cathedral where a priest would speak at a service. Then, the group would re-form and march through the city's main streets accompanied by a military band with a large group of people turning out.

This year would've been the 54th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade run by the St. Patrick's Association of St. Paul.

The association reports the annual tradition began in 1967 at Gallivan's restaurant and bar, and was put together in just two months. The parade consisted of marchers, led by Mayor Thomas Byrne, walking from the Hilton hotel, which is now the Radisson, and made their way down Kellogg Boulevard to the St. Paul Hotel. The parade lasted 40 minutes.

According to the association's website, the focus has always been on family groups, and families and kids are encouraged to participate. The organization is 100% volunteer-based.

Despite the disappointment this year, representatives of the organization said they celebrate "St. Patrick's Day and Irish heritage all year long," and are, without a doubt, looking forward to next year's event.

Of course, it's not just St. Paul that celebrates Irish heritage each St. Patrick's Day. Communities across the state take part in celebrations each year. 

More than 500,000 Minnesotans reported Irish ancestry in 2018, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, with St. Paul leading the list of cities with the highest Irish populations in the state.

You can see each year's parade buttons below, courtesy of the Saint Patrick's Association of St. Paul.

Below are pictures of parades throughout the years, courtesy of the Saint Patrick's Association of St. Paul.