St. Patrick’s Day in Buffalo is no joke and 716ers sure have mastered the celebration! However, with some of the city’s most popular events being cancelled, and others taking on a new look, Buffalonians have had to adapt to the idea of a calmer St. Patty's Day. With this in mind, there’s no better time to learn about the history behind Buffalo’s Irish heritage and reminisce on our annual traditions.
Irish Dancing - More than Big Hair & Flashy Dresses
By Serena Leatherbarrow
What’s one of Buffalo’s signature Irish traditions that goes hand in hand with the St. Patty’s Day parade? Well, Irish dancing of course! With their well-known big curly hair and bright, sparkly dresses, Buffalo’s Irish dancing community is far from a secret. However, what many don’t know is how this famous art came to be.
While similar styles of dance came before it, the Irish dancing that we know today is said to have originated around the 18th century. The spread of the art’s popularity can be traced to a man known as the Dancing Master who travelled between Irish villages to teach lessons to each community. The most talented dancers were selected to perform special parts of the routine and enjoy a moment of spotlight apart from their peers.
Irish dancing quickly caught on and became increasingly competitive as more dance groups formed. This is said to be the leading factor in the creation of modern day dance competitions.
In the following decades after it was introduced, Irish dancing took off around the world. As Irish immigrants traveled to Buffalo, their dancing traditions came along with them! Now, Irish dancing is a popular pastime among children and teens. As we know, the art is particularly highlighted around St. Patrick’s Day as dancers parade down the streets of Buffalo.
While Buffalo’s Irish dance studios practice year round for competitions and other events, it is easy to say that St. Patrick’s Day is their big debut! From choreography, music selection, and costume design, there is so much that goes into a single performance.
With the holiday quickly approaching, there’s no better time to acknowledge the hard work these dancers endure to put a smile on the faces of 716ers!
St. Patty's Day Parade
by Amanda Ross
Buffalonians love an excuse to enjoy the company of others and the weather once it hits above 30 degrees. The St. Patrick's Day parade is the glimmer of spring that gets everyone ready for warmer months ahead. It is the one day where everyone in Buffalo is Irish just for a day. Whether it’s going downtown and watching one of the most exciting parades or being in the actual parade, you will not be disappointed. Our downtown area is covered with lights and the Irish flag, and flocked with every Buffalonian there is. Buffalo is transformed for one day. Although because of COVID-19 we will be longing for the parade once again the history of how the parade came to be in Buffalo is something not many know.
The parade downtown was first held on March 17th, 1913. Now Buffalonians, but then Irish immigrants wanted to show their loyalty to both Ireland and their new home, Buffalo. The purpose of the parade was to pay homage to the patron saint of Ireland, and to show their pride of their heritage. At the first St. Patrick's day parade, a man named Marshal Mike Quinn led a group of 5,000 marchers from the Elk Street Market Terminal to Euclid Place and back in below zero temperatures. After this freezing weather there was a break taken from the years of 1917-1935. Since then there has been a parade held every year excluding the years during World War II and more recently the years during the coronavirus pandemic. The tradition is to hold this parade on the Sunday that is closest to St. Patrick’s Day.
Not only does Buffalo have the downtown parade, but there is also the “Old First Ward” parade that is held in South Buffalo. This parade since the start of it has brought the old grassroots, and the color green back to where it had originated. Just like in the downtown parade you will see floats, Irish dancers, and everyone in green celebrating the Irish culture. All of the proceeds of this parade goes to the Valley Community Associations service programs. The Old First Ward is in South Buffalo and was where the first Irish settlers of Buffalo came and stayed, giving this district its rich heritage that it still holds dear today.
Irish Heritage in South Buffalo
By Mary Kate Wirfel
Did you know that South Buffalo has one of the highest Irish populations in the Western New York area? Many Irish immigrants or people of Irish descent settled in South Buffalo after the completion of the Erie Canal. Due to the constant building of the railroads and the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, many Irish people found their homes in South Buffalo.
The Irish were the first immigrants to end up in Buffalo, bringing their cultures and homeland traditions with them. They settled in South Buffalo which was known at the time as “the flats.” The O’Rourke’s were the first documented family of Irish descent to live in South Buffalo.
When the Erie Canal was under construction, Irish immigrants came to Western New York to find work and help build the canal for minimum wage payment; at the time this was $1.87 a day. The Irish also worked at the grain elevators, helping to load ships and build railroads. In 1841, the first mayor of Irish descent was elected, his name was Isaac Harrington. He had the first church built at the corner of Ellicott and Broadway; they named the church after St. Patrick himself.
The reason for the large numbers of Irish immigration to the United States was the great potato famine. The famine killed a million people in Ireland that sent 1.5 million immigrants to America from 1845 to 1855. When the Irish immigration wave was over there were 10,000 Irishmen living in Buffalo.
John Timon became the first Irish Catholic bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. Today there is a Catholic high school in South Buffalo named after him. Soon after, the Irish moved from the flats to The Old First Ward and eventually spread into the majority of South Buffalo. Around the early 1900s most Irish families were living in poverty and many of the Irish descent sadly died from cholera.
Despite their struggles the Irish eventually created their own community along with German and Polish immigrants. South Buffalo is a melting pot settling place for many different immigrant families. The Irish also created the Buffalo Irish Center for Irish Americans to celebrate their heritage. Several Irish bars also opened up in South Buffalo bringing different types of Irish traditions to the Queen City.
The most important event the Irish brought over are the St. Patrick's Day parades. The Old First Ward parade that takes place the weekend before St. Patrick's Day and the parade that happens in downtown Buffalo every year on St. Patrick's day. Sadly due to the Covid-19 pandemic both parades have been canceled this year, but hopefully in the future the parades will be back and better than ever.
The Old First Ward
By Marissa Packard
Like many places in Buffalo, the Old First Ward is in the middle of a Renaissance. It is home to the most Irish Heritage that Buffalo has to offer. From the early 1800s, immigrants who came from Southwest Ireland landed in the West Side of Buffalo to start their new lives and they’ve been there ever sense. Those immigrants were content in the Old First Ward; they had jobs and homes, they survived and thrived here.
Fast forward to now, there is so much Irish heritage year-round in the Old First Ward and not just during March. There are iconic and unique pubs in The Ward. These pubs are locally owned, beer driven and friendly. The pubs are part of the neighborhood and the atmosphere in them is what most people enjoy. Gene McCarthy’s is the most notable of them all. This pub opened in 1963 and is a snapshot of the city with the pub tables, Irish tchotchkes and photos of local favorites. The surrounding area of the bar is unique. It is surrounded by grain elevations, multi-family homes and a network of railroad tracks. In 2014, the owners of McCarthy’s opened the Old First Ward Brewing Company, where they have many brews to offer. This place is known for its corned beef and cabbage so if you’re looking for the best spot to go this St. Patrick’s Day, head over to the Old First Ward.
If you’re in the area for St. Patrick’s Day, also check out Adolf’s Old First Ward Tavern, opened in 1934 by Adolf Baron, and recently reopened again in 2017 after renovations. When it reopened under a new family in 2017 they wanted to keep the old time, shot-and-a-beer joint feel. They restored much of the inside such as the tile on the ceiling and the original bar wood that they found. When they reopened it was the first time in history that Guinness would be sold on draft. Even with the Irish roots of this tavern, Guinness was never sold at Adolf’s.
It would be silly to talk about the Old First ward and not mention the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and Shamrock Run. There are two parades in Buffalo on the same weekend; the Ward’s on Saturday and Delaware Avenue on Sunday. The Old Neighborhood Parade is the one many enjoy most, especially if you live in the Old First Ward. It’s a day of celebration and drinking with family and friends. It’s an every year attraction for many people in the WNY area, Irish or not, people love a good celebration and a day of drinking. It’s important to note that the parade won’t be happening this year so were giving you a year in advance to plan for next year’s parade! There is also the Shamrock Run, that has been around for 43 years. This run draws in so many runners and walkers to the neighborhood for the 8K. But if you were looking to take part in this 8K you’re going to have to wait till next year. It was done virtually and in person on March 6th 2021.
The Old First Ward is home to Buffalo's, especially South Buffalo's, Irish Heritage. It’s a tight knit community that is continuing to stick to their roots and celebrating being Irish any way that they can. Once a year, people of Buffalo who have no Irish heritage are able to experience the celebrations in the Old First Ward to get a sense of what Irish pride looks like.
Classic Irish Meals
By Lexi Dahn
When March comes around in Buffalo we think of the parade and the food. The traditional St. Patrick's Day meal is a traditional Irish meal, of course. This would be corned beef and cabbage, coffee, irish soda bread, potatoes, and shepherds pie for dessert. Some great restaurants offering Irish meals this month are Brennan's Bowery Bar in Williamsville, The Irishman alos in Williamsville and East Aurora, Doc Sullivans in South Buffalo, andy Dwery’s Irish Pub in North Tonawanda. No matter where you are in Buffalo, there is a restaurant making our beloved corned beef just around the corner!
The Tradition of Galumpki
By Bria Meredith
Have you ever heard of galumpkis? Galumpkis are cabbage rolls stuffed with meats, spices and rice. I am Polish so my family has many traditions, one of which is making galumpkis on St. Patrick's Day. There are many ways galumpkis can be prepared, but sticking with the St. Patricks Day theme, I am going to tell you about corned beef cabbage. Corned beef and cabbage is a traditional Irish recipe, but this is a great way to put a spin on it! The rolls can be stuffed with anything, but we use a carrot and parsnip mash and corned beef. Start by cooking your corned beef and while you are doing that cut up carrots, potatoes and parsnips. After boiling the vegetables, mash them together. Now you are ready to assemble your galumpki! Lay the cabbage down and fill it right up with the corn beef along with your parsnip mash. This is an easy way to put a spin on a traditional Irish meal.