Go Green In Celebration of St. Patrick’s Day

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Submitted by Sandy Graham

Cover Photo Credit: William C. Smith

In 1847, over 100,000 Irish immigrants migrated to Canada in what would be the result of the infamous potato famine. Nearly 40,000 of these people passed through Toronto, which at the time had a population of just under 20,000.  In the summer of 1847, 863 Irish people died in the fever sheds that were erected at what is now Toronto’s thriving theatre district at King Street West and John Street. In total 1,100 people lost their lives during this tragic time, many died trying to nurse the sick back to health. Next time you walk the streets of downtown Toronto, look for the plaque erected in their memory, right in the heart of the theatre district.

More claim they have Irish ancestry in Canada than any other group in the world. I believe the statistic would be around 300,000 in Toronto alone, an estimated 700,000 in Ontario. So it would make sense that the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Toronto is one that is well attended.

The 26th annual Toronto St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes place on Sunday, March 17th. Up to 500,000 people are expected in downtown Toronto for the fun and excitement. The two hour parade has truly become an end of winter fixture on the Toronto calendar.

The parade is organized by the not-for-profit St. Patrick’s Parade Society.  The Society, through the Parade, works to promote and celebrate all things Irish, while incorporating bands and floats from various communities, representing Toronto’s multicultural diversity.

This year there are over seventy colourful sections to the parade and the Grand Marshall is Brian Farmer of the Canadian Gaelic Athletic Association. Brian will lead the parade of numerous floats and marching bands through the downtown core.  Popular favourites the Toronto Police and Fire Department Band will, as always, have pride of place in the parade.

In Honour of the Irish Plaque in downtown TorontoIn Honour of the Irish Plaque in downtown TorontoThe parade will start at 12 noon at Bloor and St. George, travel eastward along Bloor, turn south on Yonge Street to Queen, then west to the reviewing stand at City Hall.  This year the parade theme is “The Gathering”. Tourism Ireland is encouraging all with Irish roots to visit Ireland in 2013: plan your Irish Clan gathering, get married in Ireland, trace your Irish roots and above all have a great time in Ireland.  Visit: www.discoverireland.com. So if you’re Irish (or just want to be for the day), you are invited to show your green and enjoy the fun this March 17th on the streets of Toronto!

There are parades and events all across Canada; Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa to name a few. Thanks to the Irish, all are welcome to ‘wear the green’ and celebrate the life of St. Patrick, who by the way was actually born in Scotland, but nevertheless performed the miracle of banishing snakes from Ireland forever. (a miracle the music business could use for sure)

BonoBonoThe rock world is filled with the Irish. Most are blessed with huge Irish lungs and the humour that goes with their heritage. Some artists have used their stardom to promote their political beliefs and humanitarian causes. There are so many to name, but the ones who have taken their place in the rock ‘n’ roll history books who turned their talent into awareness.

Paul David Hewson is most commonly known by his stage name Bono and famous for being the lead vocalist of U2. Bono was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, where he met the members of U2. As the band matured, his lyrics became more intense and political. Bono is widely known for his activism concerning Africa, and the need to stop poverty and starvation. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, granted an honourary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth ll, named Person of the Year by Time Magazine, amongst many other awards and nominations. Bono continues to tour and perform while raising awareness for his many causes. He still resides in Dublin, where he purchased and renovated The Clarence Hotel.

Sinéad Marie Bernadette O'Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland and rose to fame in the late 1980s with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra and achieved worldwide success in 1990 with a cover of the song "Nothing Compares 2 U". Sinéad O'ConnorSinéad O'ConnorBest known as the bald-headed Irish singer/writer who encountered controversy, partly due to her forthright statements and gestures, ordination as a priest, and expressed strong views on organized religion, women's rights, war, and child abuse while still maintaining a singing career. Her body of work includes a number of collaborations with other artists and appearances at charity fundraising concerts, in addition to her own solo albums.

John McDermott is better known as a Scottish-Canadian tenor, his roots are both Scottish and Irish, and he has devoted much of his recordings to the Irish heritage. “Legend” is not a title John McDermott would readily embrace, but his accomplishments have become legendary in recording industry lore. He calls Toronto home, but he has also found a home as an international recording star and household name – known as much for his successful musical career as for his commitment to veterans’ causes. He is a long way from the man for whom singing was a hobby less than ten years ago. John was discovered quite by chance, when working as a circulation sales representative for the Toronto Sun, he belted out an impromptu rendition of “Danny Boy” at a company party.“I grew up singing, but I thought everybody grew up singing. My dad and mom introduced us to music early on, and all of the McDermott kids could unleash a verse or two of ‘Scotland the Brave’ or ‘Green Isle of Erin’ on command. John McDermottJohn McDermottMy song was ‘Danny Boy,’ and I sang it with pride, because even as a kid I knew what a powerful and emotive song it was.” The success of his release of that famous rendition of an Irish classic, in addition to a fast growing North American fan base, won through a tireless touring schedule, led to his participation in the PBS phenomenon, The Irish Tenors. John’s presence helped generate a US gold record, three US tours, and a high-profile media schedule, which included appearances on ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘The Today Show.’ This has catapulted him into a musical career that includes three Canadian platinum records, five Juno nominations (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy), and a solid international touring schedule. John McDermott is one to give back, with his work to contribute to veterans causes, in the shape of McDermott House. John McDermott established the Hope McDermott Fund in January of 2000, shortly after his mother, Hope passed away. McDermott stays true to his Scottish and Irish roots in all his recordings and concerts.

The Irish Rovers are a Canadian Irish folk group created in 1963 and named after the traditional song "The Irish Rover". The group is best known for their recording of Shel Silverstein's "The Unicorn" in 1967. The primary voices heard in the group's early songs were Will Millar (tenor) and Jimmy Ferguson (baritone).All of the band members are from Ireland. Founding member George Millar is from Ballymena, long-time group member Wilcil McDowell is from Larne, John Reynolds from Belfast, Sean O'Driscoll from Cork, Ian Millar from Ballymena and percussionist Fred Graham is also from Belfast. The Irish RoversThe Irish RoversThe Irish Rovers have represented Canada in no less than five World Expos, and throughout the years, have continued to tour worldwide. In 2010, the band celebrated their 45 years of sharing their music with the world by producing a CD and a DVD/television special filmed entirely in Northern Ireland. In 1968, they were named “Folk Group of the Year” by the predecessor of the JUNO Awards, and in '69 received a Grammy Award nomination, "Folk Performance of the Year". The Irish Rovers next starred in one of the most popular variety shows of its time—their own CBC-produced television series, The Irish Rovers Show for 6 seasons, winning an ACTRA Award for Best Variety Performance. Between Irish folk songs, and comedy skits featuring Will, George and Jimmy as mischievous leprechauns, they hosted a multitude of guest stars including Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Bobby Darin, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, and their friends The Clancy Brothers. In 1974, the band often filmed on location throughout Canada. The CBC also sent them to Ireland for a musical tour of their homeland. They then continued with another television series on the Global Network in conjunction with Ulster Television in Ireland. The group repeated the success of "The Unicorn" in 1980 with a crossover hit, their cover of Tom Paxton's ‘Wasn't That A Party’, which was inspired by the boys' own after show partying, keeping the tradition of the Irish alive. The Irish Rovers paved the way for other Irish Canadian acts to play in this country.

So the history and the music endure, and the Irish should be thanked for that, as well as remembered for the price they paid by coming to Canada. Celebrate St. Patrick and his day – no matter where you are on March 17th!