Naples St. Patrick’s Day had its modest beginnings back in 1976 when Fr. Thomas Goggin, a proud Irishman, lead a group of like-minded Irish from St. Louis, Mo, marching around St. Ann Church. A few months later, Father Goggin spoke with Pat McDonald, Mike Joynt, Dick Keogh, and Gerry Deppe to organize a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. Pat McDonald took on the title of Chairman, Dick Keogh was the working force and was instrumental in procuring the Bag Pipe Band from Malden, MA for the next ten years. The advertising and public relations job were taken on by Gerry Deppe and Mike Joynt provided 300 corned beef sandwiches from his catering business made by the women of St. Ann’s Parish for the wrap after the parade in the gym. Fr. Goggin always had the St. Ann’s School children march in the parade. Other interested folks jumped in and marched and off they would go. These men were the backbone of the Parade Committee for years.
A few years later, the Committee met at The Dock Restaurant enlisting owner Vinnie DePasquale’s as long term support for the Parade. For over 15 years Mr. DePasquale has generously underwritten free coffee and Danish for everyone attending The Annual Flag Raising, which takes place the morning of the Parade at the Dock Restaurant.
In 1989, the Irish American Club was formed and the founder, Dan Gleason joined the Committee and brought Bob Leyden, in charge of growing the parade, Marty Barrett as Parade Organizer, Vince Fitzpatrick, Mike Lyons, Don Sullivan, and John Harris. At the start of the 1991 Parade, was a small town parade with one band and about 25 groups, 500 marchers and much enthusiasm.
Resulting Bob Leydon's dedication in expanding the Parade, in 1992, The Naples Daily News Band and Estero High School Band and 1000 marchers joined. Prior to the Parade, a Flag Raising Ceremony was established at Crayton Circle, raising the American Flag and the Irish Flag while having Five Color Guard groups and the Malden Bag Pipe Band play both National Anthems followed by a brief program. At this point, this was the largest Parade in Southwest Florida.
1998 marked the beginning of new changes for the Parade Committee with the untimely death of Dick Keogh. This was a significant loss of a mighty man who believed in the greatness of the Irish and worked hard to promote Irish pride.
In 1999, Pat McDonald felt it was time to resign after serving as Parade Chairman for many years, Bob Leydon followed in 2001 and a call went out for volunteers at the Irish American Club.
With no prospects in sight, Betty Finnegan volunteered her husband, John, to reorganize, which included a new structure resulting in the advent of The St. Patrick Parade Celebrations Committee beginning. In 2000, Bob Leydon and John Finnegan co-chaired the Parade having Don Sullivan take over The Flag Raising ceremony. Following Bob's retirement in 2001, John became Chairman. John Finnegan served as President, John Harris served as Treasurer and Bev Harris served as Secretary and Marty Barrett continued as Parade Chief Marshall. The goals were to recruit new active members and to expand activities as part of the celebrations to fundraise for ann expansion.
John met with Phil McCabe of the Inn on Fifth both of whom came from Dorchester and Phil generously agreed to be a major sponsor, volunteering to host an Annual St. Patrick’s Dinner and Musical Gala which was the primary funding for the Parade. Phil provided the Ballroom and Roof Deck, food, door prizes and more. In addition, the business community and private parties supported us through their generous donations to the silent auction as well as financial donations.
The Committee added many active volunteers amongst them, Pat Mahoney, Kim Heaslip, Janet Sheehan, Pat Finnegan, Lizz Finnegan, Helena Finnegan, Ray O’Connor, Norma Casey, Mike Joynt, Lisa Fleming, and Mike Ward. In 2003, Marty Barrett retired as Parade Marshall and Pat Mahoney stepped into his place where he has admirably organized, recruited the 50+ marshals for Parade day and helped grow the Parade as we know it today. Janet Sheehan took over for Bev Harris who stayed on working with John in the Treasury department. Betty Finnegan took over the Gala and worked on fundraising; Pat Finnegan organized the Little Miss Smiling Eyes event; Kim Heaslip took on organizational jobs such as communications and the website, to mention a few.
These events are filled with details requiring many hands and each member pitching in wherever necessary. One goal of fundraising was to become a foundation that would continue to foster Irish culture and become a vehicle for raising funds necessary to continue what has become a major Cultural Event in Naples. When John and Bev Harris retired in 2009, Kim Heaslip became the Treasurer.
In 2003 the Parade Committee sponsored The First Annual Pub Crawl as one of its fundraisers. Patrick Mahoney recalls that “in the old days, the Parade Committee had a group of bagpipers go to the various watering holes along Fifth Avenue S, announcing to all that the Parade would be held the following day.” Patrick recalls that it was fun to follow the bagpipers; in fact, so much fun that Patrick suggested to the Committee that we rent a trolley and sponsor a pub crawl. The first year we filled six trolleys – “Naples Largest Moving Land Party.” Mahoney says that people like going to the pub crawl each year. They like walking into various pubs with a bagpiper leading the way.
Our Parade has a reputation on par with those in Savannah, Boston, Chicago, and Dublin. Finnegan helped the Parade grow from a few thousand attendees to over 40,000 people. To make this possible, the Committee recruited volunteers and expanded the number of participating high school bands by giving scholarships to all bands that participated in the Parade. Our name changed to The Naples St. Patrick Parade and Scholarship Society.