New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade: An Important Early Image

One of the earliest images of an American St. Patrick’s Day parade.

New York’s famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade is perhaps one of the oldest traditions celebrating an aspect of American diversity, an annual event which dates back to 1762.

An anti-Irish caricature familiar to 19th century America.

An anti-Irish caricature familiar to 19th century America.

By eighty years later, with the first wave of massive immigration of an impoverished Irish working-class escaping widespread poverty and starvation due, in large part, to Ireland’s potato famine, a sharp and overt bigotry arose across the United States.

A great amount of the suspicion and hatred of the Irish was due to the fact that the immigrants coming at that time were almost universally Roman Catholics, and Protestants feared that they would be loyal first to the Vatican in Rome and not to the American Constitution.

In such an atmosphere, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day had all the more of an emotional meaning, a thumb in the nose at the largely Anglo-Saxon racism towards the Irish but also a showing of strength and pride of national origin and culture.

The anti-Irish sign "No Irish Need Apply," was even set to music with sarcasm.

The anti-Irish sign “No Irish Need Apply,” was even set to music with sarcasm.

The engraving above, appearing in an 1860 issue of Leslie’s Weekly Illustrated News, however, is not only among the earliest to depict the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but it also showed Irish-Americans to be as orderly and sober and conventional as Americans of other ancestries.

Disseminated across the nation into far more non-Irish households, it may have played a small, unconscious part in the process that eventually dissipated the bigotry.

The first New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in 1762, an impromptu gathering of native Irish soldiers then serving in the British Army. Like all of the other thirteen colonies, New York was then under the rule of the English crown.

A brief description of the parade described a float carrying an Irish harpist, with a long white beard, dressed “in the ancient Irish garb.”

Text of the 1860 Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper article on the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade.


Categories: Diversity, Holidays

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6 replies »

  1. ahaha, “ancient irish barg”… if you need irish-rooted Kennedy 60s pictures at NY st. patrick parade, you know where to ask 😉

    • First – thanks for even taking the time to write and send that – I appreciate it. I would agree with you, if that is really New York whcih the engraving depicts. I didn’t see the original engraving caption, but if the original engraving identifies it as New York I think you are totally correct. Sometimes, so much material – especially non-photo images (but sometimes those too) get shuffled or sold from one archive to another and the original identifying tag is lost or misread. I appreciate your sending it along.

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