This parade seems to be most well known for its banning of gay people from marching. Boston's Mayor has avoided marching in it for this reason, but in moves which would make an Irish politician proud, he does attend the breakfast before the parade, and do interviews at the front of the parade before it starts, but then does not walk in the actual parade itself.
The parade itself it like the Dublin St Patrick's Day Parade circa 1985, all fire engines and people on flat-bed trucks waving, except that it is not in the city center (it's in the Irish enclave of South Boston), and it includes a lot of military content.
Last year I skipped this parade, and spent St Patrick's Day in Ireland - in Oldcastle, County Meath, watching the local town parade there. Much warmer than Boston, and without any discrimination about who could march in the parade. Although it was in a small town in Ireland, it was also more multicultural than the South Boston parade, including Eastern Europeans and Brazilians. I was also pleased not to have to deal with the crush at the Broadway T station, or the biting winds.
This year I'll also be skipping the South Boston parade, but I won't be in Ireland. It's a pity there is no other St Patrick's Day parade in Boston to compete with it...
[ Added: Here are some photos from the 2008 Oldcastle St Patrick's Day Parade, which I think capture some of the spirit of a rural Irish St Patrick's Day parade:
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