Category: Archive

The long and winding avenue

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

The New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been making headlines since its birth 240 years ago. But for a variety of reasons, the parades of most recent years have been generating more and bigger headlines than at any time in the event’s storied past. Beginning in 1989, when Dorothy Hayden Cudahy became the first woman grand marshal, the parade has been a newsmaker for reasons welcome and not so welcome. Here are some of the highlights, and lowlights, of recent years:


Dorothy Hayden Cudahy made headlines around the world when elected the first woman grand marshal. Hayden Cuddahy’s charm and humility proved to be a huge publicity windfall for the parade, now in its 228th year. The political highlight of the parade was expressed in the large number of marchers calling for the release of IRA man Joe Doherty, being held in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center.


Ed Sheeran elected grand marshal in a four-man runoff decided by delegates to the parade committee. The 229th parade was notable for the large number of banners carried in support of the campaign for immigration law reform headed by the Irish Immigration Reform Movement.

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Mary Holt Moore was the second woman grand marshal and duly led the 230th parade. The parade, however, was marred by the behavior of some spectators who threw beer cans, coins and other objects at New York Mayor David Dinkins, members of AOH Div. 7 and the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization, who were marching together as one unit. Some parade organizers turned their backs on ILGO and their fellow marchers as they reached the Fifth Avenue official reviewing stand.

Rifts within the Hibernians and between the parade committee and the Hibernian leadership, were now becoming visible. By June, relations between the AOH leadership and parade organizers deteriorated to the point that the parade committee chairman, Frank Beirne, was suspended from the order, and thus the parade committee, for refusing to cooperate with an AOH State Board inquiry.


The battle over the shape and future of the parade reached the courts and there was talk of an AOH split and even two parades. The New York State Board eventually secured the parade permit, but, as part of an agreement between itself and the County Board, the actual running of the parade was left to the County Board, which had sued the State Board in court. As part of the agreement, parade chairman Beirne agreed to relinquish his chairmanship.

The Hibernians had more than an internal rift to deal with as they faced a federal lawsuit brought by New York City and ILGO resulting from the decision to exclude the gay group from the 231st parade. In the end, a federal judge declined to intervene and the parade stepped off in a snow shower headed by Grand Marshal Connie Doolan. Before the parade, ILGO staged its own march on part of Fifth Avenue with the city’s permission.


"Parade War Getting Nasty" was a front page headline in the Irish Echo six weeks before the 232nd march. New York City gave the parade permit to a recently formed group of Hibernians, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Inc. This group supported ILGO’s inclusion in the line of march. The move infuriated the AOH leadership to the point that the AOH national president, George Clough, called for a Hibernian boycott of the parade.

Fearing a "partitioned" parade, the ILGO-backing committee withdrew, thus leaving the field to the traditional parade committee that was linked to the AOH New York County Board. With only days to go before the parade, this group secured the parade permit in a federal court battle against the New York City Human Rights Commission. ILGO threatened a counter-march down Fifth Avenue and former parade committee chairman Beirne, now being described as parade "coordinator," called for marchers walking in the parade up the avenue to pray and carry rosary beads.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly banned the ILGO march, but the group protested nevertheless and 230 members and supporters were arrested. The parade stepped out in the rain without a grand marshal but was headed by 11 people who would otherwise have been the grand marshal’s aides.


Popular Queens Rep. Tom Manton was chosen as grand marshal for the 233rd consecutive parade. Manton’s elevation was announced by new parade committee chairman, John Dunleavy, even after other potential grand marshals were gearing up for an election. There were rumbles of discontent from parade-affiliated groups, most especially Emerald Societies, who were unhappy with a process that appeared to be now more of a selection than an election.

The parade itself passed into history in cold, clear weather. More than 100 ILGO members were arrested after a street protest at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Cardinal John O’Connor, in a homily at the pre-parade Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, denied that the decision to bar ILGO from marching under its own banner was divisive or bigoted. "If it is a disgrace to be Irish, or a disgrace to be Catholic, I am proud to stand before you in disgrace," he told the packed congregation.


Cardinal O’Connor made parade history as the first archbishop of New York to lead the parade as grand marshal. Parade chairman Dunleavy promised "one of the greatest parades ever" and indeed there was something of a new spring in the parade step in the aftermath of the IRA calling a cease-fire the previous August.

ILGO went to court in an effort to protest its exclusion along the entire parade route. This time the group was opposed by New York City on public order grounds. U.S. District Court Judge John F. Keenan ruled that ILGO had the right to proclaim its sexuality and Irish heritage but that such a right was not absolute. Barred from the parade route, ILGO again protested at 42nd Street and 91 were arrested. Cardinal O’Connor led the 234th parade under brilliant sunshine.


Oh what a difference a year made. The 235th parade stepped out against the backdrop of a renewed IRA campaign and, in response to the renewed violence, organizers dedicated the parade to peace in Ireland. Appropriately, the parade was headed by Grand Marshal Bill Flynn, who had risen the prominence in recent months as a member of the Irish American peace delegation to the North.

ILGO went to federal court again, failed to secure entry to the parade route in order to protest and then staged what was now an annual protest at 42nd and Fifth. Forty-three were arrested.


One hundred years after feuding Hibernians ended a split and mounted one parade, an air of unanimity descended on the 236th parade, which was dedicated to the victims of the Great Hunger in Ireland. With Dr. John Lahey leading the parade as grand marshal, a minute’s silence descended on Fifth Avenue in memory of those countless victims. With the exception of a news helicopter overhead, that silence was absolute. ILGO again protested and made the point that their protest, like the parade, was now "consecutive." In their case, the seventh consecutive.


A row erupted over the selection of former taoiseach Albert Reynolds as grand marshal. A number of individuals and parade-affiliated groups were angry over the fact that Reynolds was from outside the U.S. Some claimed that he was not even a Hibernian, though the parade committee said that he was. Reynolds led the 237th parade under sunny skies and the "Pikemen" of 1798 were remembered from one end of the line of march — which included Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness — to the other.

The line of march, published free in the Echo for over 40 years, was not forthcoming from the parade committee prior to the parade; neither was an explanation for its denial. ILGO, meanwhile staged protest No. 8. There were 14 arrests.


A calm year by recent standards. Actress Maureen O’Hara turned out to be one of the most popular grand marshals of all time judging by crowd reaction along Fifth Avenue during the 238th parade. ILGO was not so impressed by nostalgia and staged its annual protest. Seventeen were arrested. The Irish weekly papers were again denied the line of march.


A new millennium for everybody was a 10th anniversary for ILGO. The group moved its street protest uptown to 59th Street to mark 10 years of exclusion from the parade. Hundreds took part in the protest and about 70 were arrested. Down Fifth Avenue, however, the majority of people were noting an absence and a presence. The absence was that of an ailing Cardinal O’Connor from the reviewing stand outside St. Patrick’s. The presence was that of First Lady and New York Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who marched in the parade to as many boos as cheers.

, The 239th parade was led by Grand Marshal Dr. Kevin Cahill under snowy skies and again the line of march was denied the Irish weeklies.


The 240th parade, now being run by the Bill Flynn-headed St. Patrick’s Day Parade Corporation, according to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration Committee, turned out to be the calm interlude before yet another storm. A growing showdown between the Hibernian national and state leadership and parade organizers was long-fingered until after the parade, which was led by Grand Marshal Edward Malloy, and, following the death of Cardinal O’Connor, reviewed for the first time by Cardinal Edward Egan.

ILGO stayed off Fifth Avenue this time, preferring to camp alongside the parade route a couple of blocks north of St. Patrick’s. The Echo, helped by marching groups in the parade, printed a line of march of its own. The parade passed without major incident. However, within weeks, differences between the Hibernian leadership and parade organizers over matters such as the permit and finances erupted into full public view with the national and state AOH leadership moving to cut all ties with both the parade committee and corporation.

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