With a kilt snug around his waist, a set of bagpipes cinched across his torso and the foam of a Boulevard Irish Ale clinging to the stubble above his upper lip, Rory McKee was ready for the day.
Almost a full week ahead of St. Patrick’s Day and an hour before noon, the Scotsman coaxed the melancholic bleats from the bag and drones of his instrument across 135th Street — announcing to the gathering crowd Sunday that the party was on.
“It’s going to be fun,” the 23-year-old from Westwood said.
Sunday marked the 25th year that the Martin City neighborhood of south Kansas City held its own St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
It’s an event with a mildly illicit history, stretching back to 1987 when R.C. VanNoy started a tradition by wrangling a few friends to drive down the street in convertibles and wave at a few appreciative bar patrons.
The event grew bit by bit over years, even as it remained a largely informal and unpermitted parade.
“We knew that all the police officers were downtown at the big parade, so we got away with it for a while,” said Debbie VanNoy, R.C.’s daughter-in-law and one of the parade’s current organizers.
But as the parade grew over the years, the cops got wind of things and pressure mounted to authorize the Martin City St. Patrick’s Day parade. So about 10 years ago, the organization got serious. The parade went legit with permits and moved to the Sunday before St. Patrick’s Day. The event has drawn as many as 115 parade entries and up to 30,000 people some years.
This year it had 70 entries in the parade and a crowd seemingly thinned by skies of drizzle and gloom.
It’s organized by the Martin City Improvement District and the Martin City Business Association. They take pride in showering children lining the street in candy and a certain underdog status where Kansas City’s south side can show its Irish side. They bill it: “Kansas City’s biggest little fun parade.”
“It’s a way for what was once an independent community to go back to its roots,” said Rich Moore.
He was tending a streetside beer tap outside the Martin City Brewing Co., a tavern run by his son, Matt, and Chancie Adams. Sunday marked Moore’s ninth year selling brews to paradegoers, time enough to develop a deep appreciation for the parade.
The craziest thing he’s seen over the years?
“A good bartender,” Moore said, “never tells.”