By Craig Harney - email
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - It's one of the biggest honors there is in Savannah, leading the parade on Saint Patrick's Day as grand marshal and again this year the recognition goes to a very familiar face.
It won't be Father Patrick O'Brien's first time at the head of the great parade. As chaplain for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, the Chatham County Sheriff's Department and the St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee, O'Brien is as integral a part of the St. Patrick's Day Parade as the bands, the floats and the Bishop's annual croon. But he never expected to be Grand Marshal.
"40 years ago I came here and I never expected it in my wildest dreams," O'Brien said Sunday at the Grand Marshal's election. "I didn't even expect it last year."
O'Brien owes his presence in the city and his standing with the parade to Monsignor Daniel Bourke, the rock upon which Savannah's Irish priesthood is built.
"He used to go back and forth to Ireland and visit the colleges," the Grand Marshal recalled. "I met up with him and he encouraged me to come to Savannah Georgia and I have enjoyed and loved it ever since."
Father O'Brien's brother Ray, who was with him at the election Sunday, will be one of the Marshal's aides which will include more family from Ireland and as many local friends as the marshal can stuff in his entourage.
"I would love to have many more," he admitted. "But through the parade committee I'm limited to six."
If he has difficulty getting through to the parade committee, in addition to being grand marshal, he has other ways of making his point.
"Don't make him mad," says his friend, Joe Welch. "He's got a heck of a right punch."