KC desperately needed an Irish craic, and 2022’s parade was exactly the right fit
March 17 is an important date for a lot of businesses. St. Patrick’s Day is one of those semi-official holidays like Cinco de Mayo that gives your bar that extra little boost needed to make rent between Christmas and patio season. It’s a gift that’s as eagerly anticipated by the service industry as Christmas morning is by an 8-year-old.
St. Patrick’s Day 2020 was different. The world shut down, and in Kansas City, that meant no parade, no breakfast at Brownes, and no drinking in Westport. Irish-born chef, Shaun Brady, sat on the kitchen floor of Brady’s Public House on Troost and cried.
With over 5,000 pounds of corned beef shared between four different kitchens that he presided over, the financial loss was staggering. The restaurant on Troost never reopened, and it was a story repeated many times over in businesses across the city.
Our city has been through a lot since then. Over 1,600 residents of Jackson County alone have died of COVID-19. Multiple protests have occurred, many of which ended in arrests and violence. Our city and police force have sued each other in court.
An entire encampment of the houseless set up a tent city on the lawn of city hall. One year later, a houseless woman who was fighting the cold under a bridge burned to death in an accidental fire, and the damage to the bridge got more attention than her death.
A few weeks that, fire truck responding to a call killed three people in a collision and destroyed a beloved local music venue. Murders and drug overdoses are climbing, and to add insult to injury, over $8.5 million dollars of taxpayer money has been paid to settle lawsuits against KCPD. Frankly, the last two years have been shitty.
Last Thursday was a craic that Kansas City had no idea it needed. “Craic” is an Irish term that encompasses many things and doesn’t easily translate to English. A craic is a good time on its simplest level, but it also alludes to something more complex.
It’s about the event, and most importantly, the shared social aspect. A truly great craic needs food, drinks, music, and intense social interaction with the largest group possible. It might be a party in a bar or a gathering of friends by a bonfire under the stars. The key is that it’s a shared experience.
Kansas City finally got to remember the importance of shared experiences on St. Paddy’s Day.
To understand this, you need to know the history of the parade in Kansas City. The first was held in 1873. At that time, the parades were sponsored by a growing Irish community in KC.
Local historian, Pat O’Neill, Jr., wrote in his book, From the Bottom Up: The Story of the Irish in Kansas City, “Kansas City’s exploding Irish population flexed first its pride and later its civic muscle with a series of parades, which highlighted daylong celebrations that included Catholic Mass, luncheon banquets, songs, suds, whiskey, and temperance meetings.”
The parades ended in 1891 due to a large and violent anti-Catholic sentiment in the community.
The parade returned in 1973 to downtown Kansas City following an idea that grew out of a bar room discussion between local radio host Mike Murphy, bar owner Dan Hogerty, and Pat O’Neill, Sr.
That year on the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day, Dan Hogerty led a makeshift parade of downtown shoppers, office personnel, and professionals on a one and a half block parade route, which ended at his bar and would be called “the world’s shortest and worst parade.” It became an annual tradition that evolved into a street party on the 1200 block of Baltimore.
In 1976, Mayor Charles Wheeler joined the party, and the city donated a trash truck to collect the beer bottles. They even added a cow and a couple of goats to the parade. By the early 1980s, over 200,000 people would gather downtown to drink and watch what was considered the third largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the country—a true craic.
In 2022, following it’s only break in the last 50 years, the Parade came back. An Irish breakfast for the masses was offered by Brownes Irish Marketplace just two blocks from the parade’s starting point. Established in 1887, Brownes is the oldest operating Irish business outside of Ireland, and participants know it for beer and breakfast on parade day.
A wide cross-section of Kansas City came to join the parade and represent. Irish dance companies and Midtown drill teams practiced on the lawns of the church while police drum and pipe corps tuned their instruments. Gay rodeo performers, animal rescues, and veteran groups all came out to represent and enjoy the communal experience.
Many marched in support of Ukraine.
Chef Shawn Brady opened a new place—Brady & Fox—with his old sous chef on St. Patrick’s Day. The space is just a few blocks away from the Brady’s original Troost establishment.
Many ended the night there, drinking Irish whiskey, and eating poutine while reflecting with friends about how great the day was.