By Alyssa Dearborn
Eileen Murray remembers the first Shamrock Run as if it took place yesterday. It was a beautiful March day and more than 900 people gathered to complete the four-mile walk/run around the Tipperary Hill neighborhood. Since then, the Shamrock run has become a March staple in Syracuse, attracting nearly 3,000 runners annually.
Runners are attracted to the Shamrock Run every year to tour the neighborhood’s landmarks, including local pubs, striking churches, and the famous green-on-top traffic light. As the race enters its 18th year, Eileen – a cofounder of the run and the 2023 St. Patrick’s Day Parade grand marshal – hopes to reach that pre-COVID crowd again.
In 2002, the Tipperary Hill Neighborhood Association had just been formed and though the association had plans to beautify the historic neighborhood, there was little funding to begin those projects.
“The message at the [first] meeting was that we don’t have any money.” Eileen said about the Run’s beginnings, “We might maybe have $200 in the bank account. So they said, ‘does anybody have any ideas on how we can raise money?’ I raised my hand and I said, ‘why don’t we organize a run/walk in our neighborhood?’”
The Tipperary Hill Neighborhood Association had to wait until it became an official nonprofit organization before the first Shamrock Run could be organized. But a couple of years later, the association was ready to work with Eileen to organize the Run.
“I contacted a friend of mine, Ed Griffin.” She explained, “I had been training for a marathon with Fleet Feet, so I got to know Ed. I asked him if he would mind meeting with us to discuss organizing a run. And so we met at Nibsy’s Pub out on the porch and he really kind of encouraged us to have kind of a St. Patrick’s Day run…Are you crazy? It’s so cold and it’s miserable in March! And he said you’d be very surprised, because Cazenovia had a run in February. So we got to thinking and we decided yes. Let’s pursue it. That’s pretty much how it got started.”
She recalled the day of the first Shamrock Run, saying,
“It was a beautiful day. Just an absolute gorgeous March day. And we ended up getting over 900 people. And it was a great success and we were so happy with that. We’re going into our 18th year now. It seems like yesterday.”
A retired teacher, Eileen uses the skills from her profession to start meetings, organize and plan, and make sure everyone on the committee contributes and feels a part of the team.
“That’s another thing I want to make clear is this race could not take place if I didn’t have this wonderful committee. Everybody is an expert at what they do. Everybody on our committee is great at what they do,” Murray said. “Since we’re on our 18th year, we’ve kind of recruited some younger people to sit on the committee because, with social media and everything, I’m not really schooled in all of that. But what you need to do is find someone who’s really good at it…It’s important to let the people who know what they’re doing do their job.”
The Run was initially created to benefit the Tipperary Hill Neighborhood Association. Since its founding, the race has helped fund gardens, a welcome sign, an arboretum, and several benches. The neighborhood has even become a part of the Save the Rain Project, building rain saving gardens near the arboretum. Today, it continues to help beautify the Tipperary Hill neighborhood while helping other important community efforts, most notably the Hunger Project.
Since the race began, more than $168,000 has been raised and donated to different charities in the Tipperary Hill neighborhood.
“We give money to Porter School, which is an elementary school that’s located in our neighborhood. We basically buy their art supplies for the year. We donate money to the zoo. We give out scholarships that we offer to high school seniors that have some community service that they give back to their community. And we sponsor sports teams like Little League teams, soccer teams, lacrosse teams that are in our neighborhood.”
“We also give to the Hunger Project.” she continued, “That’s a huge Syracuse one where when you go to register for our run, there’s a donation page and you can donate to the Hunger Project. That’s one of the reasons why I was chosen for the grand marshal is how much money our race has donated to the Hunger Project. That’s what the parade – the money that’s made from the parade – goes to.”
This year, another donation selection that participants can choose to support is the people of Ukraine.
“This year, our shirts that our runners are going to be wearing are going to have a small flag on one of the sleeves to honor Ukraine,” Murray said. “The Ukrainian community is also popular here on Tipp Hill. We have St. John’s Ukrainian Catholic Church there. So we’re not just all Irish. We have a strong Ukrainian and a Russian community as well.”
To honor her work, the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee asked her to join the pantheon of Syracuse leaders – three former mayors, former Syracuse University Football Coach Dick MacPherson, Monsignor Joseph Champlin, and many others – who have been tabbed the grand marshal of the parade.
“It means so much to me. I grew up in Cicero and it will always be my home. You know what I mean, because that’s where I grew up and had all my friends. But when I moved to Tipp Hill, I really found a community that I said I wanted to live in. And I’ve been here ever since,” she said. “Tipp Hill is wonderful because it’s so inviting. It’s so welcoming. And the fact that I’ve been asked to be the grand marshal of the parade is so important to me because it gives you this great sense of community and I’m so grateful.”
Murray said that the honor would have made her mother, who passed away in 2020, very proud.
“She was all things Irish and she would just be beaming. I wish she could be with me here, but I know she’s looking down and just so happy that this happened for me. And my whole family’s embracing it and we’re going to make it a lot of fun…And it gets you to thinking how what a wonderful community we do have in Syracuse. We love to celebrate. We really do. Any excuse to celebrate. We get through this really tough winter that we have and what better than to have a parade down the street and embrace our Irish heritage, but also just to have fun.”
Although the honor of being named parade marshal is hers, Eileen said it is because of the hard work of the committee and the community that these events are so successful.
“This is definitely a team effort.” Eileen said, “To be honest with you, if I didn’t have the people that I have, I don’t think this would have been as successful as it was. It’s so important.”
Murray and Gael of the Year Ralph Rotella will be honored at the annual Grand Marshal Gala, which will be held on Friday, March 10 at 6 p.m. at the Marriott Syracuse Downtown. The 41st annual Syracuse St. Patrick’s Day Parade will step off at 11 a.m. the following morning, Saturday, March 11. For more information on the parade and gala, visit syracusestpatricksparade.org.