Perhaps you were one of the thousands lined up along Central Avenue in mid-March this year to partake in the St. Paddy’s Day parade. The particularly nice weather (sunshine and blue sky in March!) made this vibrant community celebration all that much brighter. 

But, have you ever wondered how a community event like this comes together and who is behind it? This year, and for nearly 30 years, the Ancient Order of Hibernians together with the Great Falls Downtown Association have organized the parade for the community. 

The Parade: Behind the Scenes with the Hibernians

Every year, even though the Hibernians are busy planning the parade, they still make time for two float entries: One to open the parade and one to close it.

The Harp, the official symbol of Ireland, is front and center at the start of every parade. It’s a symbol that represents love for storytelling, poetry, music and dance. 

According to Mike Walsh and Gerry Boland, the early days of planning the parade for the community didn’t come without a few memorable “hiccups.” The very first year the AOH took over managing the parade from Diane Jovick-Kuntz, they asked her to serve as the grand marshal of the parade – a formal “passing of the baton” of sorts. 

Every detail seemed to be in place, except when the time came for Grand Marshal Jovick-Kuntz to make her entrance: There was no vehicle for her to ride in! Improvising on the spot, they quickly sourced some wheels: an illustrious golf cart that quickly transformed from a behind-the-scenes functional vehicle to the parade marshall’s ride.   

Another year, just minutes before the parade was set to begin, a patrol car interrupted proceedings. It turns out, the City Police Department had no formal paperwork for the event. The officer asked, “Who is in charge here?” Gulp. Not what you want to hear with an expectant crowd down the street. Thankfully the police department felt “the show must go on!” 

For many, the St. Patrick's Day Parade holds cherished memories and traditions. Nick Wingerter fondly recalls crafting leprechaun cutouts for the parade as an eighth-grader, which are still used to decorate the parade route today. 

Beyond the Parade

The Ancient Order of Hibernians are deeply involved in various community initiatives throughout the year. From fundraising for Catholic schools to participating in local events, the organization plays an active role in fostering community bonds and giving back. This year, the Great Falls Food Bank was the recipient of their hard work. Leading up to and during the parade they collected hundreds of pounds of food for the Great Falls Food Bank. 

If you see a Hibernian around town, make sure to stop and thank them for their service to our community, they might be already busy planning for next year’s parade!

Students and teachers from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School proudly showcase their parade float during the 2024 St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Who are The Ancient Order of Hibernians?

The Ancient Order of Hibernians now functions as a service organization in Great Falls, but the group has roots in Great Falls tracing back to the 1890s. Initially formed to preserve Irish culture and protect Catholic identity, the organization provided support and camaraderie to Irish immigrants facing social and economic barriers once they left their home country. Today’s active Great Falls order was reinvigorated in 1992 when Gerry Boland helped establish the group, recruit new members, and actively give back to the community.

Great Falls is also home to Ladies’ Ancient Order of the Hibernians service group.

Want to get involved? The Great Falls chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians is welcoming new members, regardless of Irish heritage. Submit a membership inquiry here or to learn more.

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