Gulf Shores St. Paddy’s Walking Parade will roll from Papa Rocco’s around 9:30 a.m.
Longtime participants will raise toast to late piper Jocko McClean
A bagpiping contingency led by the nephew (Neil McGinnes) of St. Patrick’’s Day Walking Parade grand marshall Bill McGinnes will surely dedicate a rendition of “Danny Boy’’ to fellow piper Jocko McClain during the Gulf Shores St. Patrick’s Day Walking Parade, which will depart from the Papa Rocco’s deck at around 9:30 a.m. on March 17 for its annual song filled stroll to various downtown Gulf Shores watering holes.
Jocko, who passed away in August at his home in Canada, was always good for multiple renditions of that song each year, and his legacy as the parade’s pied piper goes back to the 1970’s.
Jocko eyes had been failing him for years, and he and his wife Vermeil were not able to make the trip from his second home in Mississippi to join friends at last year’s parade. But his spirit will always be at the heart of the event and remains as much a part of the parade’s fabric as cold beer, green hats and Jameson’s.
Vince Murphy, who at that time owned The Pink Pony, started the walking parade and was first to carry the grand marshal baton, with Jocko beside him playing his pipes, in the mid 1970’s. Murphy passed the baton to local character John Kelliher, who led the swarm behind Jocko into Papa Rocco’s just after McGinnes opened his restaurant in 1984.
McGinnes forged his friendship with Jocko, a fellow Scotsman, the following year. And Kelliher, The Colonel to his friends, deemed McGinnes worthy of the grand marshal’s position in 1989.
“We met at the American Legion and we immediately sat down and killed off a bottle of Irish whiskey between us,’’ Jocko said back in 2015. “We went back to Papa’s and had a few more. We’ve been bosom pals ever since. He’s become very close to me.’’
“We started talking about Scotland and The Rangers and it was like we had known each other for years,’’ McGinnes added. “This is a big loss for me. We were close for many years. Jock gave me my first kilt.
“He was the original,’’ McGinnes added. “He was doing it way before my boys came down and played. Jocko will always be the soul of the parade.’’
It’s been a tough year for the grand marshall, as he also lost his wife Rose five days before the 2017 parade.
“Of course that will be on my mind, but I’ll be mostly enjoy seeing everybody have a good time. That’s what’s most important. Be safe and have a good time,’’ he said.
The parade bagpipers, sponsored by McGinnes, owner of Papa Rocco’s (one block north of the beach on Hwy. 59), will strike up their first tune upon leaving Papa Rocco’s and proceed to The Flying Harpoon, Mudbugs, The Steamer, Desoto’s/Crazy Donut, The Hangout, The Pink Pony, Gulf Island Grille and Hooters. The crawl ends around 2 p.m. at Mikee’s. But by then most of the crowd will have been left behind to eat a meal at one of the other stops.
“This started as a way to give the local restaurants a jump on spring break,’’ McGinnes said. “It’s gotten a lot bigger since then. But I’m expecting the biggest crowd yet with it being on a Saturday. I’ve already had a lot of calls. People come from all over Alabama, Mississippi and Lou-isiana. Our snowbirds love it. And we get some spring breakers. We even have grandkids of some of the originals coming out with us.’’
Butch and Lindy Harris are the original parade flag carriers, a job they proudly held even before McGinnes took over as grand marshall. But others, including Rev. Jim Mullis, have picked up the flags in recent years.
McGinnes continues to proudly carry the lead stick and even applies for an official parade permit from Gulf Shores City Hall every year (ordinance 367. Section 5).
“We want to make sure the police know what we are doing. But we are not sure what we are doing besides having fun,’’ McGinnes said.
The Green Horde is easy to find, as The Hangout is the only stop on the tour that could handle the entire crowd inside its doors.