But there is a serious side to the anointing of a grand marshal of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The office holder is, after all, a keeper of Irish America’s flame for his or her twelve months in office.
So Rooney, whose acceptance speech was the very essence of brevity, was greeted with nothing but thunderous applause after he accepted the honor of being leader of the biggest celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in the world.
Rooney, a son of legendary Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, and a director of the franchise that will face the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl this Sunday, was officially elevated to the grand marshalship of the 245th consecutive parade at a ceremony last week in the New York Athletic Club.
His acceptance speech came, crucially, at the end of 90 minutes of speeches, musical interludes and introductions so its restrained length won immediate praise from parade committee vice-chairman, Dr. John Lahey, who smiled as he reminded veterans in the room of previous installation nights of an acceptance speech by a grand marshal some years ago.
That one weighed in at a solid hour.
Rooney’s was solid too. It was merely the hour that was absent.
At the outset, Dr. Lahey reminded the room that the parade remained the most important single event in the calendar that brought together Irish and Irish Americans.
In that vein, he introduced the thirteen Irish and American-born aides to the grand marshal.
Committee president John O’Connor opined that the parade had become even more successful over the last decade and was now very much a world, as well as a New York City, event.
Irish Consul General Tim O’Connor said that the city was an extraordinary place to be Irish and was nothing less than the center of the universe on St. Patrick’s Day.
This year’s parade, O’Connor said, would be a showcase for Ireland itself at a time when the island was enjoying greater peace and prosperity than ever before.
O’Connor not only had words of praise for the incoming grand marshal, but also the man who was handing over the grand marshal’s title to his successor, Denis Kelleher, first citizen of the 2005 parade.
In a gracious farewell, Kelleher — as he did the night a year ago when he himself was installed — singled out the New York parade in what is now a sea of parades around the U.S. and the world beyond.
“Last year I described the parade as the diamond in the fleet and I still feel the same way. Thanks for bestowing on me the greatest honor,” he said.
Kelleher, who said he would forever bask in the honor and memories of a great day, praised the committee for choosing an “outstanding candidate” in Tim Rooney.
Parade chairman John Dunleavy, brought the audience to its feet when he announced that this year’s parade would be dedicated to the Fighting 69th regiment and Task Force Wolfhound, a combined New York and Louisiana National Guard contingent that recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.
Most especially, Dunleavy said, the parade would be dedicated to the 19 members of Task Force Wolfhound who were killed on duty in Iraq.
This year’s parade will be a homecoming for the 69th, which traditionally leads the long line of march. Last year its combined rear guard and veteran’s corps represented the unit.
“Because of their sacrifice we enjoy our freedoms,” Dunleavy said of the 69th, which has been a fixture for 156 out of the parade’s 245 years.
If the 69th is a fixture, the leading fitting each year is the grand marshal.
Dunleavy introduced the Pittsburgh-born Rooney as a husband and father, a businessman and owner of Yonkers Raceway, a venue the new grand marshal had frequently opened for charitable functions and fundraisers.
Rooney, in accepting what is widely regarded as Irish America’s ultimate honor, said that being grand marshal was a “tremendous” and “great” honor for himself and his entire family.
And he expressed his particular appreciation that the parade was being dedicated to the Task Force Wolfhound members who had died in Iraq.
As for St. Patrick’s Day, Rooney was keeping his fingers crossed.
“I sure hope the weather is good on March 17th. I don’t care how it is in Detroit,” he said to applause and cheers and in reference to the sixth appearance by the Rooney family concern in pro football’s ultimate game.