By Stephen McKinley
Under gray skies and threatening snow, the second annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Woodside, Queens, got under way last Sunday, attended by a diverse crowd of ethnic and community groups and New York City politicians.
The parade’s history has been controversial because of protests about its inclusive theme, a message that some Irish residents in Queens have found objectionable.
But only one incident disrupted Sunday afternoon’s proceedings, when a man moved out of the crowd and slashed two balloon arches before fleeing. Police from the 108th Precinct later apprehended him in a nearby church, where he had taken refuge.
Other vocal protesters were held behind police barriers at 50th Street and passed without incident.
Organizer Brendan Fay said that despite criticism in recent weeks and the threat of inclement weather, the parade had been a huge success. He welcomed the presence of City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, City Council Speaker Peter Vallone and Public Advocate Mark Green, all of whom are alleged to have an interest in running for boss of the city when Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s term in office ends in November.
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Emphasizing the inclusive message of the march, Fay said that it had brought families and groups from far and wide.
“It was really wonderful, and a tremendous experience,” he said, pointing out that Irish families had traveled from as far away as Maryland and Ohio to join the parade. He also said that the number of protesters were down in number from last year, when then Senate-hopeful Hillary Clinton showed up.
One of the most staunch opponents of the march said that the parade had had little to no impact this year. Patrick Hurley, President of the Regular Republicans Club said that he saw more police than sightseers at the march.
“It seemed to me to be business as usual for the community,” he said, referring to Woodside and Sunnyside, where, he says, support for the parade was almost negligible.
One parade member, Sandy Boyer, of the McAllister Family Justice campaign, said he thought numbers were down overall, but he attributed that to the poor weather.
Events started at 1 p.m. with an invocation and prayer by Sister Barbara Regan. The blending of St. Patrick’s Day and Irish celebrations with other cultural and ethnic groups from Queens lent the occasion a carnival atmosphere, and included one group called De Jimbe, which brought together Irish pipers with African drummers.
The De Jimbe group had come from Dublin to the parade, and had received a grant from the Irish Government to take part. Members of the Falun Gong religion, which has been repressed in China, also took part. In total, 106 registered groups attended, according to Fay. Stilt-walkers and Chinese puppets marched the parade route alongside more traditional Irish groups such as the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance and local groups such as the Sunnyside Community Services.
Aine Duggan, a spokesperson for the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, said that the parade had succeeded with its message.
“It achieved the theme of inclusiveness. It made us wish the Manhattan parade was as inclusive,” she said.
In response, Patrick Hurley said that the parade amounted to the “hijacking of the name of St. Patrick,” in the service of “advancing a homosexual and left-wing agenda.”
“Don’t try to create the illusion that this parade in any way represents the people of Sunnyside and Woodside,” said Hurley, who is president of the Regular Republican Club.
Some groups stayed away, but not entirely because of the cold. A naval drill squad from Connecticut had offered to join in the parade, but some committee members debated the issue of having armed troops on the march route. According to Fay, committee members felt that the presence of weapons on display in the parade went against the message of inclusion and peace. The drill squad eventually canceled its appearance, citing difficulties with transport from their base.
During the countdown to Sunday’s parade there had been other allegations that various participating groups and services had been intimidated from taking part. Fay indicated that he was aware of these allegations, and said that he believed that one car service had pulled out of ferrying elderly people to and from the parade.
After the parade ended, participants retreated to the Foggy Dew and Kilmeggan bars, where music and celebration continued long into the evening.