Tradition returns with a twist: St. Patrick’s Day to cruise through downtown

— Created March 10, 2021 by Kacie Jo Voeller

By Kacie Jo Voeller

Celebrate the return of St. Patrick’s Day with a cruise through downtown Oak Harbor at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 17. While the Whidbey Island Irish Wildlife Society usually hosts a parade in the event’s honor, this year, community members will be encouraged to instead decorate their vehicles and drive through town.

Teresa Besaw, a member of the Irish Wildlife Society, said it was important to find a safe way to continue the festivities after the last-minute cancellation of the parade last year due to the rise of COVID-19. Besaw said celebrating Irish heritage and bringing fun to the community at large is a time-honored tradition of the Irish Wildlife Society.

“We cannot have a parade because people would gather to watch the parade and it is not quite safe yet,” she said. “So, we figured if people decorated their cars and cruised through town, it is a way of getting out and doing something safely.”

Besaw said this year, participants will have the chance to wave at Mayor Bob Severns, Capt. Matt Arny of NAS Whidbey Island, and Eric Marshall, who was planned to be the grand marshal for last year’s parade, as they drive by Oak Harbor’s Blarney Stone on Pioneer Way and Ireland Street. Besaw said rumor has it the Whidbey Island Chicken and the Whidbey Island Unicorn may also make an appearance downtown. Besaw said safe practices, including social distancing and wearing masks, will all be part of the event while also providing a fun atmosphere for community members of all ages.

“We are trying to have ways of getting people out to have a little bit of fun for the holiday but not gather crowds and things like that,” she said.

Shannon Bly, another member of the Irish Wildlife Society, said Oak Harbor’s Blarney Stone is a special part of the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day on Whidbey Island, and the event returning this year after last year’s cancellation makes this year an important one.

“It was really, really sad not to be able to do that (the parade) and everything (else) that got canceled,” she said. “I think right now with a lot of things, anything, in any form, if it is happening, it feels so special just to be able to continue it in any way.” 

Bly, the granddaughter of former longtime Whidbey Island Irish Wildlife Society members Leigh and Milly McWilliams, who also owned Whidbey Stationers, said the Blarney Stone has played an key role in St. Patrick’s events. She said each year, the stone is washed in Guinness, and in years with a parade, the stone also served as a gathering point. This year, the Blarney Stone will serve as a landmark for people to drive by and wave to the grand marshal and mayor. Bly said the stone came to the Irish Wildlife Society when her grandparents got a call from a Whidbey Telephone Company (now Whidbey Telecom) worker who knew the society was looking for a Blarney Stone. A large green stone had been dug up and was later delivered to its new home at City Beach, where it would take part in many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations until its move to Pioneer Way. 

“I think this is kind of fun to have it (the cruise) this way, because people are really going to know about the Blarney Stone,” she said. “There is no parade, but because we have a Blarney Stone, we are going to rally around that.”

Editor’s Note: Eric Marshall is the publisher and owner of Whidbey Weekly & Printing; Teresa Besaw is Whidbey Weekly’s graphic designer.