Pittsburgh's Button Party kicks off holiday

St. Patrick's Day Parade fundraiser allows attendees to 'rub elbows with the Irish'

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While Pittsburgh's St. Patrick's Day parade -- held the Saturday before the cultural and religious holiday -- typically signals the start of the annual celebration here, a growing tradition is getting the party started even earlier.

The annual Button Party has grown from a simple gathering in 1996 that honored parade sponsors to an event of the Who's Who of Irish Pittsburgh and beyond. This year's event will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. March 7 at Mitchell's Restaurant, Bar & Banquet Center, Downtown. The party includes food, beer, wine and soda -- and the commemorative button -- for $30.

"Every politician that was anything would show up and hope to rub elbows with the Irish," said Jack Goodrich, principal of Goodrich & Associates, P.C.

On Monday, Mr. Goodrich, a second-generation Irish-American, was named grand marshal of the 2014 Pittsburgh St. Patrick Day's Parade to be held March 15. It's regarded as one of the largest St. Patrick's Day parades in the nation, with roughly 24,000 participants and an estimated 200,000 spectators.

"There's not a higher honor to grant to an Irishman or woman," said Mr. Goodrich, whose family comes from counties Galway and Mayo. He hasn't missed the parade since 1983, following his college years when he attended a smaller celebration at St. Francis University. He graduated from Duquesne University Law School in 1987.

"Growing up, that's what you did. You were Irish."

In 1992, Mr. Goodrich, as chairman of the parade fundraising committee, designed the first St. Patrick's Day button to raise money for the parade, which costs roughly $30,000 to produce.

"The button has become somewhat of a collector's item in the Irish community," Mr. Goodrich said. The keepsakes were sold for $20 the first year, but they did not bring in the funds needed.

While talking over beers at Mitchell's restaurant, Mr. Goodrich; Marty Madigan, president of Irish Society for Education & Charity, which oversees the parade; and restaurant owner Jim Mitchell thought of creating the Button Party.

"It was such a big success that we wanted to do it again, and it took off from there," Mr. Mitchell said about the first button party at his restaurant in 1996.

Now 500 buttons are made each year. The party has grown to fill both floors of the restaurant, with last year's event drawing 350 guests.

The men say the Button Party draws in guests because it marks the end of winter and the promise of spring.

"We didn't even have to advertise it. It sells itself," Mr. Madigan said of the party. "This winter has been harsh, so I think the Button Party will be huge."

Sara Payne: spayne@post-gazette.com.

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