Mar. 21, 2004: Fond Remembrances of St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah

One of the most enjoyable parts of this job is the opportunity to go around the state and talk to various groups and organizations. Less pleasant is trying to get there without being run over by self-important yuppie-boomers in their gas-guzzling SUVs. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t do it more often.

Recently, I was invited to Savannah to speak to the Hibernian Society, one of that city’s oldest and most prestigious organizations. (I know what you are thinking: If it is such a prestigious organization, why would they invite me to speak?) Their dinner is the climax of the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the city, second in size only to the festivities in New York City. The Hibernians were founded in 1812 by a group of Irish immigrants. An invitation into its membership requires a wait of 22 years. If you are nearing retirement age, I would suggest joining a group that won’t take quite as long to admit you, like The Dick Yarbrough Fan Club. Its standards are much lower, and there is no wait.

This St. Patrick’s Day parade was my first, and it was worth dodging the yuppie-boomers to be there. March 19 would have been a bad day to sue me because I was surrounded by some of Savannah’s finest attorneys: my host, Walter Hartridge, a Hibernian Society member who risked his considerable reputation on the hope that I could entertain 800 of Savannah’s finest after they had partied all day; Sonny Seiler, the World’s Greatest Bulldog and owner of Uga VI, the World’s Greatest Mascot; and Joe Berten, who went from a total stranger to a good friend in an instant.

Despite an unfortunate accident that sent several people to the hospital, the parade was a great success and an example of all that is good about our country. I saw floats and bands, proud Irish and Irish wannabes. I watched the crowds cheer the men and women of our Armed Forces — especially the Vietnam veterans. The roar when that unappreciated group of heroes marched past is one I will long remember. It made me wonder if any draft dodgers or draft-card burners were in the vicinity when the vets came marching by. If so, I hope they felt like dog poop.

The parade included men and women from fire departments and police departments from all over the country. They were smiling and waving to the crowd, and I thought about how dangerous their work is and how little we appreciate them until we need them.

The usual gaggle of politicians attended: Gov. Sonny Perdue, Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, plus a number of local and county officials. How great it is to live in a country where we decide in free elections who governs us and who doesn’t. What a shame that so many of us don’t exercise our right to vote. Flaggers felt that the low turnout in the recent state flag referendum was a sign of public disapproval of the referendum itself. That could be, but since we can’t get even half the registered voters off their duffs to vote for president, I suspect there was a large amount of apathy as well.

Gen. James Oglethorpe knew what he was doing when he first brought settlers to Savannah, instead of going to some place like Pell City, Alabama. Savannah is a great city full of great people, and it is home to two of the best pubs in all the land, McDonough’s and Pinky Masters. No disrespect to Pell City, but I think both pubs would much prefer to be in Savannah.

The Hibernian Society annual dinner was as much fun as I had hoped it would be. Fortunately for me, the crowd laughed in all the right places, which certainly helped. It was an evening of songs and toasts and tributes to all things Irish, and I was fortunate to be a part of it. St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah turned out to be a great day for the Irish and for everybody else, and it reminded me that I need to get out more often.