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Bands, dancers, dogs: Parade!

By Jennifer Nixon

This article was published March 13, 2014 at 3:11 a.m.

an-afternoon-of-irish-themed-fun-waits-for-little-rock-and-north-little-rock-as-the-irish-cultural-society-of-arkansas-presents-its-14th-annual-rock-to-north-little-rock-st-patricks-day-parade-arkansas-has-taken-us-to-heart-says-parade-chairman-tim-ryan

An afternoon of Irish-themed fun waits for Little Rock and North Little Rock as the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas presents its 14th annual Rock to North Little Rock St. Patrick’s Day Parade. “Arkansas has taken us to heart,” says parade chairman Tim Ryan.

For 14 years, the Irish Cultural Society of Arkansas has enthusiastically shared its traditions with the people of central Arkansas through its Rock to North Little Rock St. Patrick’s Day Parade 1 p.m. Saturday.

And this year is no exception. In fact, parade chairman Tim Ryan says this year’s looks to be the best ever: “I thought we wouldn’t beat last year, but I think this year we’re going to beat it.”

The parade has grown exponentially since those first years of trying to recruit people and groups to participate.

“Before, we used to have to beat the bushes,” Ryan says. “Not anymore.”

In addition to floats, the parade features Miss Arkansas, the Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School mime troupe and the award-winning Baxter Bomb Squad from Mountain Home High School. This year’s band lineup also includes the Lyon College Pipe Band, Northeast Arkansas Caledonian Pipes and Drums, Prince Street Pipes and Drums (who offer free lessons to anyone who wants to learn to play), Sylvan Hills High School Band and the Dead Celt Society Band.

As always, students from the McCafferty School of Irish Dance and the O’Donovan School of Irish Dance will show off their dancing skills.

Bands and dancing groups will do post-parade performances at Main Street and Broadway for Dancing at the Crossroads.

Irish wolfhounds, known as “gentle giants,” will also be on prominent display, proudly marching along. At the end of the parade, the owners will participate in a meet-and-greet, where curious bystanders can ask questions about the breed.

The parade starts at 1 p.m. at Fourth and Rock streets in Little Rock, goes to Third and Rock streets, passes through the River Market, then over the Main Street Bridge through the Argenta Arts District before ending at Sixth and Main streets in North Little Rock.

Three viewing and performance areas are designated at Third and Rock, the River Market and at Broadway and Main Street, but Ryan insists, “There are no bad locations.” So people are encouraged to take lawn chairs and set them up anywhere along the route.

The parade this year is dedicated to the memory of Peg Roach Loyd, the society’s longtime public relations leader and a singer-songwriter, who passed away in January.

Because the society believes in pitching in and helping the less fortunate, they will once again accept donations of money and nonperishable food for the Arkansas Rice Depot.

There’s always a police presence along the route to keep things orderly and ensure there’s “no nonsense.”

“This is not a booze-up or a Mardi Gras parade,” Ryan says. “This is a family parade and that’s how we want to keep it.”

They’re keeping their eyes on the weather too, but so far, Ryan says, they’ve been very lucky: “We’ve never been rained out. There’s no other St. Patrick’s Day parade that can say that.”

What started out as a small parade with 12 floats has virtually exploded and it’s still managed, planned and run almost entirely with volunteers, primarily young people, born and raised in Arkansas, but with a strong sense of history and tradition from Ireland.

“The parade is a mix of Arkies and Irish,” Ryan says. “And that’s a good mixture any time.”

Call (501) 868-6416 or visit irisharkansas.org.

Weekend, Pages 36 on 03/13/2014

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