In recent years we’ve grown used to Unionists grousing about the loss of their traditional marching routes in the North, so what happens when the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade is dramatically diverted too?
This year, the Irish Voice has learned, the Fifth Avenue parade will begin at 44th Street and conclude at 79th Street, a block short of the traditional route past the American Irish Historical Society between 80th and 81st Streets and seven blocks leaner than the usual ending point at 86th Street.
The move was instituted last year by the New York police and sanitation departments to save money. All parades in the city would have to be contained to five hours and shorten their routes in order to save on overtime and sanitation costs. Both the NYPD and the Sanitation Department would comment to the Irish Voice about the changes to this year’s St. Patrick’s march.
Reaction from within New York’s Irish community has been mixed. Ray Conlon, the president of the Sligo Association of New York told the Irish Voice, “I think it’s terrible. I think they should move it up or start further up from 44th Street so that they can reach 86th Street. I think it’s wrong that they shortened it.”
Conlon suspects there are other considerations apart from the impact on the city’s budget in play.
“I think there’s some politics involved in the decision because there is no reason it shouldn’t go up its traditional route. I believe the city is looking for money from the Parade Committee,” said Conlon, who will march with the Sligo contingent.
“I would they are looking for a few bucks that way. But the committee can’t afford it. It’s hard enough running the parade without having to pay the city.”
The city is making millions from the tourism the parade creates Conlon says, but he believes they still want to make more.
“It’s pure greed. They want more money for their own projects and its terrible it should be like that. They’re on the street marching up and doing no harm so it should be left the way it is,” he said.
Maurice Brick, the public relations spokesperson for the Kerrymen’s Association, also expressed his concerns to the Irish Voice.
“Every few years they cut it back and I’m just afraid that one of these years we’ll wake up and the route will only stretch as far as 50th Street. It’s disconcerting to tell you the truth,” he said.
Brick believes that shortening the parade sends a message that the Irish are not as politically powerful as they used to be in the city of New York. “This would never have happened 40 years ago, it would have been inconceivable,” he adds. “Because back then they had that clout. They don’t have it now. Especially when you have a mayor going around saying that we’re all inebriated and getting away with it.”
Conlon says that this year the mayor won’t be able to gibe that the Irish are hanging out of the windows of the American Irish Historical Society because the parade will end a block before it reaches there.
“That’s probably the reason why it’s been cut off at 79th Street,” says Brick with a laugh. “They make a pile of money. I usually stay near Grand Central and every hotel in that area is always full of parade goers.”
Conlon believes that the cut backs have been made because of the effort it takes. “They don’t think it’s worth it any more for the Irish. That’s how I feel. I may be all wrong. But I’ve been marching in that parade for 43 years and these recent changes are indefensible,” he said.
But Mary Power, the ex-president of the Cork Association, has a different take on the city’s parade move. “
We knew this was going to happen. It’s not just the Irish parade. All parades have been shortened and for many reasons, the impact on the city’s traffic being the main one.”
“Am I disappointed? Yes, I wish it reached as far as 86th Street because I live in that area and that was the usual route. But I just think it’s still wonderful that we are allowed to tie this city up for a day.”