Denver family honors departed loved ones at St. Patrick’s Day Parade

At the corner of Blake and 17th Streets, a Denver family enjoyed the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the 32nd year in a row. But this year was different.

As the bagpipes wailed and the step-dancers jigged, the Kelly family threw an Irish extravaganza in memory of a brother and sister who were dedicated to celebrating the holiday.

Barbi Kelly, who died of cancer in 2007, and Tom Kelly, who died of cancer in January 2016, took pride in their St. Patrick’s Day traditions. The brother and sister were known for bar-hopping in a Winnebago with friends and family as the parade wound through the streets.

Those memories were the centerpiece of Saturday’s celebration for their friends and relatives.

“We do this to honor them, honor our heritage and honor friendship,” said Dan Kelly, their brother. “It’s not just about partying — it’s the memory of our family.”

While other parade spectators donned shiny green necklaces and other festive costumes, the Kellys wore vials containing the cremated remains of Tom and Barbi around their necks. They pinned photos of the brother and sister to their shirts.

The occasion could have taken on a bittersweet tone for the Kellys, who said goodbye to Tom a little more than two months ago. But there were no signs of sadness as they doled out pints of beer and watched the floats roll by.

“This is absolutely a celebration,” Dan said. “I hope to be in one of these vials one day. I want my kids and nieces and nephews to do the same thing. That’s just what family does.”

The family, which has Irish roots, laid out a spread of hot dogs, hamburgers and, an original creation, corned beef burritos. But, Dan said, the feast would be incomplete without two items — Goldfish crackers and cupcakes that had been tipped over and disfigured.

“Barbi was always showing up to places with Goldfish and cupcakes that she had made and gotten all messed up,” he said. “That’s why our cupcakes are tipped over.”

Anywhere from 350,000 to 400,000 attended the 2016 Denver St. Patrick’s Day Parade, according to parade officials. As spectators took in the spectacles of the event, the Kellys were focussed on each other.

“Sometimes all you do is see each other at weddings and funerals,” said Kathy Kelly, Dan’s sister-in-law. “That’s not us.”

Celebrating their Irish heritage was also at the center of the party. Kathy said everyone who came to watch the procession and rejoice in Irish culture was part of a big family.

“The Irish culture is very important to us,” Kathy said. “This is about family who is here and family who isn’t.”