ANNA MARIA ISLAND Only during the annual Beach Bistro St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Anna Maria Island can the Ludka family from Traverse City, Mich., sing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” on the corner of Marina and Gulf Drive and not get one sideways look.
Every year since 1999, the Sunday afternoon after St. Patrick’s Day on the island has been a time to let inhibitions melt away with the winter weather, and this Sunday fit the “Spring-is-coming-let’s-act-wacky” bill.
“We have 24 inches of snow back in Michigan,” said Loretta Ludka, wearing a white blouse covered with green clovers and standing next to her husband, Larry, who was wearing a huge green tie with a clover on it and a green cap that was two sizes too big for him.
The Ludkas were at the parade thanks to their daughter, Lisa, a Washington D.C. resident, who had heard about the parade, believe it or not, while on business in the Middle East recently. Lisa Ludka treated her parents to a monthlong island vacation built around the parade.
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“Today we are the O’Ludkas,” said Lisa Ludka, who looked like an Irish princess with green strands of rope in her hair.
The Ludkas were among thousands who lined Gulf Drive and screamed and yelled at people in the 20 or so floats, who rewarded their cheers with beads and candy.
Snowbirds and parade first-timers Bob and Caroline Horgan from Somerton, Pa., outside of Philadelphia, said someone in their Bradenton snowbird community encouraged them to attend the parade.
“It was crazy,” Caroline Horgan said. “People were dancing on pirate ships, throwing necklaces and candy and singing. It went way beyond my expectations. We’ll be back next year.”
Camels fill in for Judy the elephant
Mr. Bones, who is famous in parade lore as being the handler for the late Judy the Elephant, a parade favorite who died last year, brought two camels back this year.
“We had Judy in our parade for 15 years and we honor her legacy,” said Beach Bistro owner Thomas W. “Sean” Murphy, pointing at a float with a blow-up elephant.
Along with the camels and every manner of vehicle, there were several bagpipe units and powerful performances from the Southeast High School marching band and the Mighty Electa Lee Magnet Middle School Marching Band With Alumni and its dancers.
The Electa Lee band delighted the crowd with “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.
The parade started at Marina and Gulf and went north along Marina Drive, ending up at 79th Street in Holmes Beach.
It started over beer
The parade started in a conversation over beer at the Beach Bistro bar 19 years ago, said Murphy, who scooted around the parade Sunday on a motorbike, making sure everything was running smoothly.
“We were all sitting around like a bunch of Irishmen do on St. Patrick’s Day telling lies about all the great parades we had never been in on St. Patrick’s Day and we decided, well, what the heck, let’s have our own, so that’s what we did,” Murphy said.
Murphy got a permit and the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office was willing to help out and, before Murphy knew it, there were three horses and six people, including Murphy and his children in a green lawn trailer.
“We went down through the middle of Holmes Beach and no one knew we were coming,” Murphy said, smiling. “That first parade was a great parade. The spirit of that parade was for my children. Now, the parade is for all the island’s children. It’s a big day. Everyone has a good time.”