Burns to lead annual St. Patrick’s Day parade

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 10, 2010

NATCHEZ — Peter Burns’ Irish roots run as deep as the snake-like roots of a 200-year-old live oak.

So it is only fitting that he serve as 20th St. Patrick during the Krewe of Killarney’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Natchez.

“My heritage is mostly Irish, but first of all I’m an American,” Burns said. “But I’m an American with strong, deep Irish roots.”

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Burns family owned Burns Shoe Store on Main Street, and as far back as 1919 the family honored its Irish ancestry by passing out shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day.

“In the building on Main Street you can still see in the tile the shamrocks from when it was the shoe store,” he said.

Burns, the Adams County tax collector, was chosen to serve as St. Patrick by a committee of former St. Patricks and, he said, he was honored to have been selected.

“I was surprised when I got the call, but it is an honor,” he said. “I didn’t hesitate to say yes.”

Burns said he is honored partly because the parade is a fun Natchez tradition, but he is also proud to be this year’s face of the Krewe of Killarney because of the good work the group does.

“We are a philanthropic group,” he said. “I don’t want that to get lost in the fun of this event. Our purpose is to help our community.”

The Krewe of Killarney annually provides scholarships for several local high school seniors and also supports the mission of Pleasant Acre Day School in Natchez.

The krewe’s fundraising auction is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at The Columns on Main Street. Current krewe members are encouraged to attend, as are those interested in joining the group.

Single member dues are $15 and family dues are $25.

The walking parade will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Memorial Park and will proceed down Main Street. The parade is open to walkers who “are Irish or wish they were Irish,” Burns said.

Burns will be dressed for the occasion, but wouldn’t revel the specifics of his regalia.

“That’s a surprise people will have to come to the parade to see,” he said.

He will be accompanied by many proud family members, some traveling from as far away as North Carolina to celebrate.

The parade follows Main Street to the bluff where Burns will continue the tradition of driving the snakes out of Natchez by tossing them down the bluff.

“It is symbolic of the way St. Patrick was able to drive the snakes out of Ireland by ridding the Irish people of many of their pagan traditions and beliefs,” Burns said. “We cast them out of Natchez each year, but somehow they keep coming back.”

St. Patrick was kidnapped at 16 in England and enslaved in Ireland. After six years of labor, he escaped and returned to England. A short time later he felt called by God to return to Ireland and teach the Irish about God.

He is credited with using the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity to Ireland.

“Four leaf clovers are the ones considered to be lucky, but really it’s the shamrocks that are important,” Burns said.