Savannah’s oldest tradition is back.
After two years without a parade and one year without a grand marshal, the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee gathered at the Benedictine Gym on Sunday and name retired Chatham Tax Commissioner Danny Powers as the grand marshal for the 2022 parade.
The post is the highest honor for Savannah’s Irish community, now in their 198th year of the tradition. Powers, a Savannah High School graduate, will serve as the public face for the parade committee at the events leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.
And after two years without a parade, he will lead the city’s biggest celebration of the year.
“It’s been a phenomenal day. I had a ton of people hang in here for me. I’m looking forward to the march and everything leading up to St. Patrick’s Day,” Powers said. “It’s been two years since we had a.” parade, and as you can see from the crowd that was here today, we’re very anxious to get back on the street. “
For the parade committee, the last Sunday in February marks the beginning of the Irish season. The group convenes annually at Benedictine to cast their vote for the grand marshal for the year.
As always, it’s a spectacle. They locked the doors to the gym behind them at noon, and committee members stood guard outside. The glass doors were covered in paper, to keep prying eyes from watching the election.
They take the event seriously, and bylaws are bylaws. This year, a few folks showed up after the noon cutoff and were turned away from the vote.
And when the doors opened on Sunday after nearly two hours of deliberation, it was Powers who came out on top.
‘Wearing o’the green’
For Savannah’s Irish, family is everything, and Powers’ family connection to the event is long standing.
Powers’ grandfather, Aloysius J. Handiboe Sr., penned the official song of Savannah’s biggest holiday, aptly titled “It’s St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah” in the 1950s. The song serves as an anthem for the parade committee and is often sung as a punctuation mark at the end of parade committee events.
In 2019, Powers told Savannah Morning News the song also works just fine as a lullaby.
“We sang it often growing up; it was part of our family routine. It brings back many fond memories of my parents and my uncles,” Powers said.
The song will no doubt be performed at the coming slate of parade committee events, starting next week at his public investiture.
More: More:The song of the Irish: AJ Handiboe’s tune dear to Savannah on St. Patrick’s Day
‘The folks down here (almost) never miss a year’
In 2020, the St. Patrick’s Day parade was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. The parade was the first public traditions in Savannah to be halted as a result of pandemic, and 2020 grand marshal Mike Roush didn’t get to lead it.
The next year, the city canceled the parade in January, and the parade committee opted not to name a grand marshal, the first year without one since World War II.
More: More:Savannah will not have a grand marshal for St. Patrick’s Day, first time since World War II
For this year, Powers, along with this year’s General Chairman John Fogarty, say they’ve got a few special surprises for the return to form.
“We’re expecting big crowds, because everybody’s anxious to get back to it, so we’ve got some fun things coming,” Fogarty said.
Fogarty said this year’s festival will include celebrations of the University of Georgia’s national championship win and the Atlanta Braves’ World Series title. Fogarty said the World Series trophy will be in town, though not carried through the parade.
The Irish Minister of Justice Helen McEntee will be in Savannah as well as a group from County Wexford, Ireland. Fogarty said there’s even talk of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp coming down for the parade.
“We’re gonna do all we can to make sure we make everybody proud,” Powers said.
‘The Ireland of this land’
Bolstered by nearly 200 years of tradition, the festival can attract as many as half a million people every year to the city, according to estimates from a 2018 Georgia Southern University study.
As for the planning of the parade, the city mostly takes a hands-off approach. That process is handled by the parade committee.
It’s no small undertaking. The parade itself requires planning and coordination. Additionally, the parade committee is responsible for a number of events leading up to the big day, all of which are time-honored traditions.
For the past couple of years, COVID-19 has posed new challenges. But Fogarty said through close coordination with the city, they’re ready to bring the parade back to the public.
This year, the city has approved a few notable changes to the post-parade festival, including an extension of the to-go cup zone to Victory Drive on March 17 only. The city will also not issue any permits for live music stages, food tents or beer tents.
Mayor Van Johnson said the goal of the changes was to keep the event from becoming a “drunkfest.”
More: More:City Hall notebook: Savannah council approves St. Patrick’s Day changes, renovations to Waters Ave. Center
Fogarty said the parade committee fully supports the new rules for this year’s festival and says the changes align more closely with their own St. Patrick’s Day tenets: family, heritage and a celebration of culture.
“We’re proud of what they’re trying to do, and we want to support it,” Fogarty said.
When the St. Patrick’s Day Parade begins, promptly at 10:15 am on March 17, it will be Powers leading the charge.
“It’s been two years, and these folks are crazed to get this thing back on the street. We want everybody getting back out, enjoying time with your families,” Powers said. “Enjoy everything in moderation, and make memories that we can keep.” with our families forever. “