A St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the Ages

20 Mar


    It was only fitting the first parade on 5th Ave in NYC this year would be of historical significance. The 250th anniversary of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was about to kick off just as it first did in 1762. With over 200,00 marchers and an estimated 2 million spectators and millions more watching on television, it is destined to be one of the greatest parades in NYC.   St. Patrick’s Day Parade is like no other in that every one marches with the exception of a few. Grand Marshall, Ms.Mary Higgins Clark, was driven by a handsome cab and waved to thecheering crowd. Everyone else walked the nearly 2 mile parade route and stopped in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to be reviewed by Archbishop Dolan and the clergy of the Archdiocese of New York.

     In a month which has been proclaimed by President Obama as “Irish-American Heritage Month“, the full display of Irish cultural identity was evident in the marchers and spectators alike. The celebration of the patron saint of NYC and Ireland continues to be the largest in the world with a display of strength of the Irish tradition.  This 250th year milestone anniversary helped honor those Irish-Americans before us that helped to contribute to the building of this great city and country… from the soldiers of the American Revolution to the laborers of the Industrial Revolution to the technicians of the Information Revolution.


      For a parade of this magnitude, I needed some extra help. While Rachel was further up the parade route taking pictures, my daughter, Carolyne, and I made our way towards the corner diagonally across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There we met a group from Sasketchewan, Canada in town for only a day on a stopover from Dubai and said they wouldn’t miss the parade for the world.  We also met a father and daughter from England which I promptly told her not to mention she was from England and then she showed me her Irish shirt. Wow. A sea of green was to be seen in every direction one looked. Carolyne asked when the parade was going to start when a group of Mounted Police carrying the American, Ireland, New York State and New York City flags trotted up. I told her she has her answer right in front of her. Everyone cheered loudly at the kick off of the parade. Even the sanitation crew cleaning up after the horses were cheered.  They had to hurry as they were quickly followed by the 69th Regiment of New York, 1st Battalion, the original “Fighting Irish” escorted on each side by their traditional Irish wolfhounds. They were followed by several companies of the battalion and all were greeted with cheers from the spectators.  One flag that may have touched many New Yorkers was one of the Twin Towers with the American flag in the middle held up proudly by the Bergen County Police Pipes & Drums Band. Yes, we will never forget. 


       After a few more bands and marchers came an exciting part of the parade. Grand Marshall Ms. Mary Higgins Clark rode on white horse drawn carriage. She was gracious and elegant and embodies all the imagination and creativity of the Irish American culture. Following her was the Honorable Mayor Bloomberg waving the Irish flag enthusiastically alongside the 2010 Grand Marshall Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.  Undoubtedly one of the many highlights was when Officer Steven McDonald rode up on his motorized wheelchair with a large contingency of police officers behind him.  Quite possibly his son, Conor, was one of the officers as he recently joined the ranks of the NYPD.  Another highlight was when the Marine Corps Marching Band from Washington DC made its way up 5th Ave to the Marine Hymn . A few spectators behind me starting singing the lyrics with the music and it sent a patriotic chill down my spine.  They were followed by a colonial era procession and one couldn’t help but wonder what the original marchers would say if they could see the spectacular event the parade has evolved in to.   


    I was lucky enough to stand next to a 40 year parade veteran. Maureen Lynch from Bay Ridge Brooklyn was kind enough to help explain some details as the parade went on. Each county of Ireland and their US affiliates proudly display their banner with representatives following closely behind.  Maureen explained that Cork County was one of the strongest counties in Ireland as they are known for their fighting spirit while Clare County is the most scenic. She said that her son attended Xavierian HS Prep of Brooklyn just as the band appeared playing the bagpipes and marching in precision.  She mentioned there are spotters all throughout the parade route judging the sound quality and marching steps of each band. Surely the Londonderry HS Marching Band of New Hampshire must have ranked high on the list as the 200 piece band marched and played almost flawlessly. Domestic marching bands came from as far as California and Florida to participate in the celebration. The international contribution came from two bands from Spain, the Irish police (Garda Siochana), and the Canadian Mounties.  Soon after Maureen left as she typically does after she saw the Kerry County banner. That’s where her deceased husband’s family came from.  The parade sponsors, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, from all divisions in the tri-state area made their way along the parade route to the still cheering and loud crowd.  


    In all total over 153 marching bands and 187 clubs, societies and associations  made their way up 5th Ave. in a 6 hour-long parade.  It was a thrilling event for kids from 99 to 1.  The gift of the Irish was reflected in every nook and cranny along the parade route. There’s nothing better than being a witness to tradition and culture being passed down from one generation to the next and the Irish this year have done so in grand style.


 Next Parades:

Sunday March 20, Phagwha Parade Richmond Hill Queens celebrating Holi. 12 noon Liberty Ave. and 133rd St.

Sunday March 27, Greek Independence Day Parade, 5th Ave. 1pm fr 59th to 74th Sts.

Friday April 1, April Fool’s Day Parade. 12 noon 5th Ave and 59th to Washington Square Park where the biggest Fool will be crowned.



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