Last week the mermaid and I had the honor of marching in the New York City St. Patricks’ Day Parade. This is the oldest parade in the city and one that I remember watching on television with the genial white-haired Jack McCarthy for years. It never occurred to me that I could actually march in the parade in those days; that was for others, but not for mere mortals. So when the opportunity came our way via St. John’s University, we jumped on it.
It turns out the Irish have been marching for centuries dating back to the 1700s. The parade route has changed over the years, and politics has sometimes overshadowed the parade, but hey, these are the Irish, of course that will happen. In fact, this year a fellow Rockawayite provided us with buttons protesting against the powers that be in parade management. And when he told me they wanted to change the name of the parade, I tended to agree with the protesters, so I wore my button proudly.
Turning onto Fifth Avenue, you get a rush of excitement to be walking down the middle of the street of dreams. It’s a different feeling when people are waving at you and you find yourself waving back, as if you are the Queen herself! Luckily, Friday was a beautiful day with brilliant sunshine, making the mile-and-a-half trek up Fifth a good stretch of the legs.
We got to pass by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and few auxiliary Bishops were lingering about, but most of the upper clergy had long vanished. You see we didn’t step off (as they say in parade lingo) until 3 pm, finishing around 4 in the afternoon. All the celebrities and politicians had long since paraded. But it was still thrilling to march past the Cathedral in the middle of the street.
From the ecclesiastical to the rich and powerful, we headed further north toward Trump Tower. We had to march on the other side of the street, I guess Melania was home and didn’t care for the riff-raff passing by. But march we did, past Trump Tower (I may have been guilty of an Italian salute as we passed by), and on past the Plaza and upwards along Central Park. There were many years I stood on the side of the park watching the pipers and County flags go by, and now here I was marching right along the green line.
I would have imagined that back in the day the elites of upper Fifth Avenue probably didn’t care too much for those fleeing the famine, walking through their neighborhoods. And I am sure that those marchers felt a supreme feeling of pride, walking freely in their new country. It’s no wonder that every other group of immigrants have followed suit and instituted their own parades of pride.
Interestingly enough Ireland didn’t really have St. Patrick’s Day parades until fairly recently, imitating us here in America. But they always had parades; in fact you wouldn’t believe how many parades they have. The parade industry is highly regulated in Ireland and for good reason, as so many different groups parade and usually parade through their enemies’ neighborhoods. Oh boy, that didn’t always go well. But back to the sheer number. In 2007 there were 2,863 parades according to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That’s about nine parades a day. Have you been to Ireland? It’s not a big country, so chances are if you go, you’ll see a parade!
Me? I just like to walk, and how many times do you get to walk in the middle of the street in NYC for a mile-and-a-half? And God bless the Sanitation Department! The street was cleared of snow. You know if you go to New Orleans, you can get a permit to march in your own parade right down Bourbon Street with a rented band! So it’s marching season, let the marching begin!