The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in McIntosh County’s Shellman Bluff community might not be the biggest in Coastal Georgia, but it sure has a lot of heart.

Set for March 24 and 25, the Irish-style festival — in its 16th year — is sponsored by the community nonprofit Friends of Shellman Bluff. Local resident Phylis Brown, an organizer and Friends of Shellman Bluff board member, is optimistic this year’s St. Paddy’s Day party will be the best yet.

“This year, we’re actually expanding,” said Brown, a retired educator. “It’s really family oriented, but there’s definitely a party aspect to it.”

The two-day Irish celebration, this year themed “Marsh Madness,” kicks off at noon March 24 in the Friends of Shellman Bluff Park. Vendors, food, crafts and entertainment will all be on tap. Local band Slackwater will rock an anticipated crowd of thousands of revelers that evening, Brown said.

The party will get rolling again March 25 when the park and vendors re-open at 10 a.m. The fun will carry on until 1 p.m. when the parade begins.

“The parade is about one-and-a-half to two hours,” Brown said. “And I’ll tell you, to be such a small community, the parade is huge.”

After the parade, the crowd is invited back to Friends of Shellman Bluff Park for more merriment. A DJ will spin tunes from 7:30-10:30 p.m.

Although the festival and parade are about a week after the actual St. Patrick’s Day, Brown said that’s with good reason.

“We always do (the parade) the Saturday after St. Patrick’s Day,” Brown said. “But this year that Saturday is the day after St. Patrick’s Day. We have a lot of participation from groups like the Shriners, and they are all in the Savannah parade and needed more turn-around time, so we decided to push it back a week.”

The whole soiree is sure to be good fun, but at its core, it’s a party with a purpose.

“It’s all to help support the Shellman Bluff and Harris Neck volunteer fire departments,” Brown said. “In the past 16 years, we’ve probably given about $25,000 total to the fire departments.”

The small unincorporated community in northern McIntosh County relies on its volunteer firefighters, which in the past has led to a lower rating from the Insurance Services Office, or ISO. The rating is used in determining homeowners insurance rates.

“We’re a small community, and because we’re so small, the ISO ratings can be really low,” Brown said, noting that there isn’t so much as a stoplight in the area. The Friends of Shellman Bluff organize the festival and charge entry fees for parade floats and vendors. The money is donated to the volunteer fire departments, which event organizers hope will support the first responders and improve the ISO rating.

The fundraising aspect is serious business, but Brown hopes attendees will show their Irish spirit and shake their shamrocks. The wacky floats that fill the parade are a sight to see, she said.

“I’m an old lady, but I enjoy a good time,” Brown said jokingly. “There are all kinds of floats — Elvis floats with signs that say ‘Viva Shellman,’ people dressed as Madonna, all kinds of things. There are whole families that march, with everybody from little bitty kids to grandmas twirling batons. Some people even dress their dogs up.”

Parade organizers also give out awards for the best floats in different categories — and the judging is quite literal.

“We think it’s funny for the judges (of the floats) to be real judges,” Brown said. “We have real judges from Superior Court, Magistrate Court (and) State Court.”

The zany atmosphere is what Brown loves most about the annual shindig.

“(Shellman Bluff) is just a fishing community, but it’s also a pretty big party place,” she said. “We enjoy having a good time here.”

For more information about Friends of Shellman Bluff, or the St. Patrick’s Day parade, visit www.thefriendsofshellmanbluff.org.

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