Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade enthusiast to get birthday delight 

  • Mike Flaherty, front, marches with the Aqua String Band during the 65th annual St. Patrick's Parade in Holyoke. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Brandon Sullivan, 28, at the Big E Mardi Gras parade in 2019. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/22/2020 9:04:52 AM

CHICOPEE — When the Holyoke St. Patrick's Parade was canceled in early March because of COVID-19 worries, Denise Sullivan’s son was crushed.

Sullivan explained that her 28-year-old son, Brandon, has a fervent passion for parades, learning every minute detail as parade day approaches and videotaping them so he can watch them all year long. Sullivan said that Brandon, who has a developmental disability after being born with fetal alcohol syndrome, has a “savant-level” knowledge of every local parade and looks forward to them all year.

So when the Holyoke parade was canceled, Sullivan said that her son slumped his shoulders and was “devastated.” But that’s about to change with Brandon’s birthday approaching on May 2.

After the parade was canceled, Sullivan posted on several local Facebook forums, hoping she could get a few people to drive past her house on Brandon’s birthday to give him a tiny, socially distant parade to make up for this year’s canceled processions. Soon, her posts were shared hundreds of times as a deluge of comments poured in.

“I’d be willing to decorate my car and join in a parade!” one commenter said. Another, the mother of this year’s Grand Colleen in Holyoke, chimed in: “She and a couple of the other Colleens in the court are planning on attending.”

The event has ballooned into such a large parade that Sullivan said police in Chicopee, where she lives, are planning to direct traffic.

“This morphed into something so much bigger than I had ever anticipated,” Sullivan said. “The community has taken this and, in my opinion, it has become the St. Patrick's Day parade that never happened.”

Sullivan said that Brandon re-enacts every parade he sees.

“When he was younger, we literally had to have a new driveway put in because he wore it out,” she said with a laugh. “He would reenact every division of every parade that he saw.”

Last year, she said she managed to get him a seat on one of the floats in the Big E Mardi Gras parade. His reaction, she said, was one of pure delight. And she's sure he will react similarly to the parade coming to his house in less than two weeks.

Sullivan said that Brandon has always joked about having a parade come by his house, and that she always told him that was unlikely to ever happen. Now, she said, he will get that chance.

“It’s the COVID-19 parade of the century,” she said, adding that she’s happy people can still practice social distancing while taking part in the parade. “I thank everybody in the community for doing this but still keeping themselves safe.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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