Millions of Irish Eyes Smiling on 5th Ave.

19 Mar

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For the last 254 years, New Yorkers have come out to honor the patron saint of Ireland and New York City and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the oldest and largest parade for Irish culture. Every March 17th, 5th Ave. turns into a sea of green with lots of bagpipes, marching bands, and representatives from Ireland to greet the millions of spectators. This years version of the parade was of a more peaceful theme with former US Senator George Mitchell, the architect of the Northern Ireland peace agreement, as the Grand Marshall.  The mounted police signaled the start of the parade. As usual, the original Fighting Irish 69th Infantry Regiment kicked off the parade in grand style with their lead Irish Wolfhounds and marching band. Even the band looked like they were ready to take down any enemy. Every group stops by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and greets Cardinal Dolan as they march their way up 5th Ave. The first of about 100 pipe and drum bands from all over the Tri-state , Ireland, and even Spain made for some great music. The lead pipes and drum were from Bergen County. They were just getting things warmed up for the millions of spectators that came from all parts of the country to show off their Irish pride and culture. One of the better things to compare is which Emerald Society Band brings out their best…either the FDNY or the NYPD. It’s always a brotherly competition between those two groups. Another great example of fraternal bonding is when the Sligo Sligeach, the Irish police, and the NYPD march together. Mayor De Blasio ended his boycott of the parade as parade officials relented and allowed an LBGT group to march under its own flag. Even though the Mayor did make up for lost time as he marched 3 times…one under his own banner, another time with the FDNY and another time with the Irish Queers group.

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For me, one of the best parts of the parade is when Officer McDonald comes out with his family to greet the spectators. He’s a living testament to compassion and love of mankind even when faced with enormous obstacles. The St. Patrick’s Day parade boasts some of the best High School Marching Bands next to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The first of many HS marching bands appeared. Perennial favorites were the Dover Union from NY,  Londonderry HS from New Hampshire and the West Milford NJ HS Marching band. They always do a great job. Some newcomers to the parade included the Northstars from Cicero near Syracuse NY, the North Caroline HS band from Maryland and the Raven Nation from Delaware. It’s tough to say which one made the best impression but the edge goes to the Raven Nation. One of the better parts of the parade is when the international groups from Ireland and Spain marched. Each county of Ireland sends their representatives to the parade. As always Cork made the loudest splash at the parade, even though County Tyrone made a nice impression with their Accordion Marching band. The Spanish group from Galicia and Asturia showed their version of playing bagpipes.

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One of the most beloved groups is the 343 group. They carry 343 US flags representing the 343 firefighters that lost their lives on the 9/11 attack in NYC. They always get a loud applause. A related group, the Green Berets, led their group up 5th Ave. They were soon followed by the Suffolk County Pipes and Drum band. Since this parade is the oldest of its kind, there are groups depicting the many wars our nation has faced. Beginning with the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, WW1 and WW2. There were many Jr. Cadet and ROTC bands displaying their sharp uniforms and high energy. If this is any indication of the future of our military strength, we are in good hands. And if this parade was any indication of the upcoming parade season, 2016 is going to be grand year.

ERIN GO BRAGH

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