St. Louisans don’t have to look far for a reason to take days off in the middle of the week, drink beer, and have a parade. But the history of this Irish, luck-filled celebration always seems to stand out differently than most other city traditions. It’s almost as if we’ve woken up from our winter slumber to walk out our front doors to declare that warmer weather is here to stay, and longer days have arrived. And what better way to celebrate than wearing head-to-toe green and shamrock everything?
In a city that is steeped in rich tradition, it might be surprising that the iconic Dogtown parade has a young history of celebration in St. Louis. Founded in 1984 by James Mohan and friends, it was established out of a love for tradition and a recognition of the past. “We wanted to do it for the Irish and by the Irish. We wanted Irish families to march with their banners and crests. We wanted to march on St. Paddy’s Day. Some people said we’d never be able to march on St. Patrick’s Day, but that’s how you get an Irishman to do something: You tell him, ‘You can’t do it.’ We modeled the parade after one from the 1800s. We march through the town, end up at the church, and have a big festival.”
Although the tradition of the parade is relatively new, the Irish history of Dogtown dates to the 1800s when Irish immigrants moved to St. Louis to work in newly developed clay mines. The neighborhood’s affectionate name is said to have come from the miners’ huts in the area—referred to as “dog holes” or “dog town”. As Dogtown grew and more families moved in, it kept its tight-knit Irish feel and values of community loyalty, family, faith, hard work… and of course Irish thirst!
Dogtown is now home to some of the most loved Irish pubs in town—like famous Seamus McDaniel’s and Pat Connolly’s Tavern, which is the oldest operating Irish pub in St. Louis and a staple for over 75 years! Pat Connolly’s current owner, Joe Finn, says he can still feel the Irish emphasis on community in the area. “There is a camaraderie here that you don’t find in most places,” he says. “Things like family and friendship are much more important here than they are in mainstream America. People living in Dogtown would like to keep things that way.”
After two years of absence, we are glad to see the Dogtown Parade and Irish Festival are finally back. As now the largest celebration of Irish culture in St. Louis, the parade and festival bring the rich Irish history of our city a little closer, and we’re so ready to see the Dogtown neighborhood come alive.
So, while the tradition of St. Patrick’s Day that was first commemorated on March 17, 1820, by a small gathering of Irish settlers, has grown to one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the country, we think our early Irish settlers would be proud of the crests and flags that walk the streets of Dogtown and honor the tradition of St. Pat himself.
Will you be making it out to Dogtown this St. Paddy’s Day? If so, we wish you a lot of fun, and of course, we wish you, “good health, good luck, and happiness for today and every day!” For more fun facts or to talk to any of our resident St. Louis history lovers, stop by our coffee bar at Saint Louis Bank. We’re always here to gush on all the things we love about St. Louis.