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St. Patrick’s Day parade attracts crowd of thousands

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By Lindsey Leonard

Tens of thousands of Atlanta residents flocked to the streets of downtown Atlanta for the 130th annual Atlanta St. Patrick’s Day celebration of the Irish culture. The event included the world’s largest walking Irish flag, 16 community bands, 4,000 dancers, six floats and a five-story St. Patrick’s Day balloon.

The parade was led by Mayor Kasim Reed and featured two special guests from Ireland: Irish icon Liam O’Connor, the fastest Irish singer in the world, and Irish minister of culture and heritage Jimmy Deeniham.

More than 65 Georgia State University hospitality students, faculty and staff helped set a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest walking Irish flag. The flag covered more than 4,000 square feet and was carried down Peachtree Street for the parade.

The Atlanta Parade Committee had contacted GSU to ask them to participate and carry the flag during the parade.

“We have participated multiple times in the past with a convertible in the parade and a marching group of students giving out candy,” said Debby Cannon, director of the School of Hospitality at GSU.

Cannon said the flag-walking event was promoted through classes.

“Some students participated to be unique, some for fun and some for class studies,” Cannon said. “Overall, it was a positive learning experience for the students.”

Just a week before the parade, the flag was shipped from Michigan, where it was made, to Hurt Park in downtown Atlanta so the GSU students, faculty and staff could “try on” the flag for the first time.

“Because of the design of this massive flag, it took 54 students to actually ‘wear’ the flag,” GSU student Joshua Grotheer said.

The parade was hosted by Atlanta St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Inc., a group of parade committee members in charge of the organization and funding of the festival, including the funding for the walking Irish flag.

“The parade is still growing,” Kelcie Chambers, assistant account executive of the parade said. “It used to be in Buckhead, but it was moved downtown in the early 2000s.”

On the morning of the parade, there was a dignitary’s breakfast recognizing Reed, Grand Marshals and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who represents District 5. A Cuties Luckie 5K was held that same morning at 8 a.m. along with a fun run race at 9 a.m.

The races began at Centennial Olympic Park and finished in the Luckie Marietta District of downtown Atlanta.

Immediately following the parade, a family-friendly festival was held, featuring more Irish culture, dancers and bands.

To top off the day of events, there was a concert located at the Buckhead Theatre. O’Connor made his second appearance of the celebration along with his troupe of Irish dancers and musicians.

To raise money for the parade funds, the Atlanta St. Patrick’s Day Parade Foundation Golf Tournament at Peachtree Golf Club was held on Oct. 31. More than 120 golfers gathered, selling out the event and raising $160,000 to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Georgia and the 2012 edition of the parade.

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St. Patrick’s Day parade attracts crowd of thousands