Originally known as Ireland Parish in West Springfield, Holyoke saw some of the earliest Irish immigration to this country in the 1820s as Irish speakers from County Kerry came to build the dam and canal system and work in the paper manufacturing plants and textile mills. Irish pride still runs high nearly two centuries later, and the city holds one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country. As luck would have it, St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, so the parade will take place on the actual feast day of the patron saint of Ireland. Holyoke doesn’t limit the celebration to a single day. About 8,000 runners are expected to take to the streets for the 38th annual St. Patrick’s Road Race on Saturday and some downtown streets are closed to automobiles for the weekend to encourage friends and family to gather and have a good time.
But the parade — this year is the 62d — is the big event. It kicks off at 11:30 a.m. Richard Dupuis, 2013 president of the parade committee, and Ray Feyre, media liaison, remember seeing the parade as kids and talk about what makes it special.