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By JOHN LEE McLAUGHLIN
Daily News Staff Writer
It’s a short jaunt, strolling the docks of downtown Ketchikan, a quick cheers to the patron saint of Ireland and his fabled snake-ridding chivalry.
And, really, anyone can join the already varied mix of pipers, bikers, roller-derby girls, men in kilts, ukulelists, dogs and swing dancers who are set to march in the fifth annual offering of the Ketchikan St. Patrick’s Day parade.
With the holiday officially held Friday, the Ketchikan parade will start this year at 2 p.m. Saturday at Berth 4. From there, the come-one-come-all group will parade along Water and Front streets to Berth 1, ultimately ending at the Salmon Landing Market via Mill Street, a sort of ground zero for parade aftermath, among other downtown festivities.
“Anybody who wants to join: There’s no sign-up,” parade organizer Willie O’Brien said. “You just show up at Berth 4 at about 1:30 p.m. ... It’s Ketchikan. I mean, anyone can join.”
O’Brien founded the parade in 2012, with the blessing of the Ketchikan City Council. And while the former Detroiter doesn’t know for sure — he admittedly hasn’t done the research — the Ketchikan offering might just be the only official St. Patrick’s Day parade in the state, he said.
“I will go on record with my knowledge on the state of Alaska,” O’Brien quipped as he detailed parade happenings from behind the counter of the Crab Cracker Seafood Bar, which he co-manages his wife Stacey O’Brien.
And if Alaska indeed is lacking, as O’Brien said he would like to see things blossom, the come-all celebration could build the First City spectacle into something much bigger, perhaps eventually making strides alongside the Petersburg Little Norway Festival, Sitka’s Alaska Day Festival — or even the famed Iditarod.
"I mean, it could be a destination for people to come to sunny Ketchikan, you know, in the middle of March, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day," he said, cocking a friendly grin. "I mean, why not come to Alaska for St. Patrick's Day?"
As for the parade: the shorter the better, O’Brien explained, because after all, "You want to make it quick in March, depending on the weather. But, you know, after a 15-minute walk, you need a Guinness. You need to have a pint.”
And while many likely will do just that, Stacey O’Brien noted the parade is meant as a family affair, too.
“That’s the thing,” she said. “There’s going to be great entertainment (that’s) fun for the kids. ... It’s going to be an all-weekend affair.”
She said 200 or more attendees typically show for the parade. It will be led by the U.S. Coast Guard Base Ketchikan Honor Guard, and Ketchikan’s Hunter Davis has been dubbed this year’s parade grand marshal.
In addition to the parade, the O’Briens are fundraising via “Shamrocks for Cancer,” with the proceeds benefiting the nonprofit First City Council on Cancer.
The council will be holding its annual Saint Patrick’s Day auction and raffle on Saturday at the Ted Ferry Civic Center, where doors open at 5 p.m., with the live auction starting at 6 p.m.