By Pierce O’Reilly
Four Irish women will take center stage in Cleveland this year at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Ohio’s most Irish city.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade in the Buckeye State is breaking with tradition after 134 years and has appointed four women as its honorees for the gala event.
The parade, which attracts thousands of spectators every year, will have as its theme "Ireland, the Isle of Saints and Scholars."
on this occasion will be rightfully making all the headlines.
This year’s parade will be held on Saturday March 17th. The day’s celebrations will conclude with the 134th Annual Banquet at the Sheraton City Center at 6 p.m.
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The Cleveland march is generally regarded as one of the best St. Patrick’s Day parades outside of the larger cities with sizable Irish populations.
The celebration of Irishness in the city that boasts of having more than 180,000 residents of Irish origin will feature approximately 10,000 participants marching in 139 units this year. The groups include bands, marching units, police and fire department representations, floats, precision drill teams and several novel performers.
The grand marshal for 2001 is Lonnie McCauley, the Irish archivist of the Irish-Americian Archives and past president of the Padraic Pearse Center. McCauley is the first woman ever to be selected to this honor in the history of the Parade.
The 42 delegates from the United Irish societies select annually a grand marshal, an Irish mother of the year and two parade co-chairs.
The deputy director of the United Irish Societies, Marilyn Madigan, said that the grand marshal is an individual who has contributed significantly to the advancement of Irish activities in the Cleveland community.
"Lonnie McCauley is a worthy candidate," she said.
The Irish Mother of the Year award was inaugurated "to honor an Irish mother to symbolize the role of all Irish mothers as the strong, caring backbone of the Irish family." She is honored for being a woman "whose life has reflected credit on the Irish nationality, and whose example has been a source of inspiration to the community." The parade co-chairs are selected from the community at large and the delegates to honor their commitment and dedication to the Irish community.
The Irish mother selected this year is Sara McLaughlin, wife of Michael, and mother of three children, John, Kevin and the late Maureen. McLaughlin’s daughter Maureen was murdered in 1990 in Arkansas. McLaughlin said she tries every day to forgive the man that gunned down her only daughter. "It’s not easy to let go, but time is a great healer," she said. "I wanted him to be put to death." When prosecuted the murderer received 60 years in jail.
It took McLaughlin 12 years to return to her native land after arriving in Cleveland.
"I hated the U.S. at the beginning; it just didn’t have the same life as London," she said. When the Achill woman did return to her roots, she wanted to stay at home.
"Achill will always be my only real home," she said.
The parade co-chairs are Bridget Boland, Cleveland Feis entry secretary, and Bridie Joyce, delegate from the West Side Irish-American Club to the United Irish Societies.
This is the first time in the history of the parade that all the honorees selected are women.
"It’s about time that these women — who have done so much to enhance the Irish community in Cleveland — received some recognition," Madigan said. "These woman have being very active and supportive in all aspects of Irish life and are devout Catholics."
Grand Marshal McCauley was born in Cleveland on Sept. 19, 1947. She attended St. Philip Neri and Holy Cross grade achools, Lourdes Academy, Mary Manse College, Cleveland State University and Kent State University. McCauley is proud of her County Mayo and County Cork ancestry. She was one of the founding members of the Padraic Pearse Center, serving as the first president and for a total of seven years. McCauley is presently the director of the Padraic Pearse Library and employed as the Irish American Archives specialist at the Western Reserve Historical Society. In 1989, she was selected as Irish Person of the Year by the Gerry Quinn Irish Radio Program.
McLaughlin was born on Feb. 1, 1928 to Charles and Annie Kilbane Boyle on Achill Island, Co. Mayo. She attended Dookinella national School. In 1948, she immigrated to England and in 1952 she arrived in Cleveland.
"Sara McLaughlin is a mother who has inspired her children to honor their faith and their Irish traditions," Madigan said.
Bridget McGinty Boland was born on Jan. 9, 1947 in Ballycroy, Co. Mayo. She was raised and educated in Cambridge, England. In 1965, she immigrated to Cleveland with her Aunt Bridie. Her most notable of many contributions to Irish culture in the region has been the largely anonymous job of entry secretary for the Cleveland Feis.
Bridie Jennings Joyce was born on Oct. 10, 1936 in County Galway. She immigrated to London in 1954 and to Cleveland in ’56. She has served the West Side Irish-American Club on many committees from 1956 to the present day. In 1993, she was selected as the West Side Irish-American Club’s Woman of the Year.
Special guests at the parade this year will be new Junior Minister for Agriculture Eamon O’Cuiv and a delegation from the Achill Island tourism board.
The city that nestles along Lake Erie at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River will be a sea of green this weekend with its Irish community to the fore — four women, that is.