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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The Greening Of Spokane St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Once A Drunk Fest, Has Been Returned To A Family-Oriented Event

Eighteen years ago, the maiden St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Spokane reached its climax when beer trucks showered downtown streets with green beer.

Indeed, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade once glorified the rowdy, drunken behavior for which the holiday is notorious.

This year, a different kind of sea of green will wash over Spokane streets - one of green clothing worn by participants and spectators.

If there’s any partaking of beer with a greenish hue, it’s going to be done indoors, not on the parade route. At least, not officially.

Indeed, the parade’s philosophy has changed.

The annual event, sponsored by the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, has steadily built an image of being a family affair. Tim Flanigan, president of the Friendly Sons of the St. Patrick, has watched the metamorphosis.

“I’ve seen it go from drinking and wild parties to a family-oriented event,” he says. “It’s not like the old days when they used to put kegs of beer on trucks.”

It’s blossomed into a real parade.

“I would say that that’s probably the best definition. Instead of people getting together, it’s become a parade,” Flanigan says.

In doing so, it has grown into the city’s second-largest annual event just behind the annual Lilac Parade in May, drawing more than 145,000 people downtown. It’s bigger than Hoopfest and it’s bigger than Bloomsday.

The list of entries is increasing, too. Saturday, organizers anticipate the largest number of participants ever.

“In the last three years, we’ve tripled the entries,” says Flanigan. “It’s gone from about 60 entries to about 180 entries. As a matter of fact, I think we’re going to go for 200.”

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade bears all the essential staples of traditional parades - floats, bands, celebrities and, of course, the public participants and spectators.

The highlight of Saturday’s parade, which starts at noon, will be appearances by Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Disney’s “Toy Story.”

“It is very important to us that the Disney characters have chosen us as the parade in this region that they’re going to participate in,” says parade chairwoman Leslie Brennan. “They don’t participate in very many parades.”

This year’s Irish affair also features Mayor Jack Geraghty as the grand marshal and appearances by U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, and Mike Cannon and Anna Mae Ericksen, the Spokane Irish Man and Woman of the Year, respectively.

And, believe it or not, the St. Paddy’s Day Parade in Spokane is larger than the one in Dublin, Ireland, according to Declan Kelly, consul general of Ireland for the Pacific region.

Kelly also says Spokane’s parade is the best in the region.

“In all the parades (Kelly’s) been in - San Francisco, Seattle - he says Spokane just beats them hands down,” Flanigan says.

He attributes the impressive turnout to a large Irish population in Spokane.

Almost 25 percent of the people in Spokane are Irish, according to the 1990 Census.

Flanigan is proud to be a part of an event that’s really come around. And he hopes the parade will continue to develop.

“I hope it stays a family event. And we’d like to see more of the high school bands participate,” he says. “I think that will take the parade full circle.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: St. Patrick’s Day parade route

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