SAVANNAH, Ga. - A top Irish government official visiting the U.S. during St. Patrick's Day celebrations said Saturday he skipped a trip to Savannah, home of the largest and oldest St. Pat's parade in the American South, to avoid a dinner where only men are allowed.
Eamon Gilmore, who as deputy prime minister and foreign minister is essentially Ireland's No. 2 politician, instead made stops in Atlanta and New Orleans - where St. Patrick's Day crowds and parades pale in comparison to the nearly 200-year-old celebration in Savannah, which boasts that its parade is the nation's second-largest.
Gilmore told the Irish Times a visit to Georgia's oldest city would have come with the expectation he attend the annual dinner of the Hibernian Society of Savannah, a private event open only to men. The group's leader said Saturday that Gilmore wasn't formally invited but that he would have been welcome.
"Count me out - I'm not doing it," Gilmore told the Irish newspaper. "I don't believe in segregation either on a gender basis or on any other basis."
Early Irish immigrants to the Georgia coast held the first St. Patrick's Day parade in Savannah in 1824, and it has since swelled into a massive street party and tourism bonanza known to draw 400,000 or more revelers a year to the city of 136,000.