With my trip to Ireland just around the corner, St. Patrick's Day brings with it an added touch of nostalgia for all things Irish. And what better place to plant yourself for the National Holiday of Ireland than on the streets of Dublin? Well, if in addition to the Irish obsession, you've also got a hankering for all things Italian, New Orleans might be the next best location for a unique St. Paddy's Day excursion.

While living in New Orleans a few years back, I came to experience the Irish-Italian connection by witnessing the Irish-Italian Annual Parade, which (funny enough) takes place every year on the Sunday immediately following St. Patrick's Day. According to the parade's official Web site, "This parade originated many years ago when Italian Henry Hoff and Irishman Eddie Renton, Sr. decided it was time to have their own parade. Their motto was 'It's about time we get together!' It didn't take long to interest others in the idea, and the Irish-Italian Parade was born!"

For this parade, in addition to the traditional beads that are thrown at all New Orleans parades, you will also see strands of green, white, and red beads dangling medallions in the shape of Italy. However, the most highly sought-after prizes being thrown from the floats are the ingredients needed to fix up a big delicious pot of Irish stew, also known as ballymaloe or stobhach gaelach in Gaelic.

Therefore, instead of hearing bystanders yell, "Throw me some beads, Mister," you are far more likely to hear someone screaming, "ONION! ONION! Please, for the love of Pete, someone throw me an ONION!" I can say from first hand experience that all other parades pale in comparison when the day is finished off sharing a fresh pot of homemade Irish stew amid a circle of friends and family all decorated with strands Italian beads.

I recommend this event much more highly than either Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest (even though Jazz Fest is outstanding, without question). March is considered "off season" which means flights are cheaper, the weather is good, and there's still all the New Orleans "craic" to be had, sans frat boys and the flashing of body parts, which also means a family-friendly and truly unforgettable experience for everyone.

This year the Irish-Italian Annual Parade will take place:
Sunday 3/22/2009 at 12:00 noon

For more about the parade