There was a telling moment for me waiting to address the Irish Business Organization (IBO) last Wednesday night at the Irish Consulate in New York. Just before I spoke IBO members were handed their sashes to wear in the parade the following Monday.
Each Irish organization gets an honorary position in the parade denoted by the sash, many as aides to the grand marshal, etc.
The members chosen donned their sashes, then posed for a photograph. They were rightfully proud of their recognition.
Meanwhile, seated beside me, Irish government minister Joan Burton was asked to join in the photo. But because it was parade related, and because she had made it clear she would not march because of the gay exclusion issue, she refused to do so.
It encapsulated a crazy week for me when the Irish were front and center but, alas, for all the wrong reasons.
The IBO is a fine group of people, small business owners mainly who have a long history of service and commitment to the community.
Burton was doing what she felt was right by having no overt connection at any moment to the parade or its stance on gays.
But in the process she was revealing the yawning gap between those who see the parade as much more than a narrow single issue event, and those who cannot get past the rights of gays to openly march as the only thing that matters.
There are so many good and decent people like the IBO members who cherish and honor the act of marching in the St. Patrick’s parade. It is extremely disheartening to see them tarred in any way with the fallout from the LGBT issue.
If you stand and watch the parade for even a short time that is what comes across, the sheer joy and exuberance and pride of those taking part.
The issue of gays marching is lost on most of them, from a Catholic high school band from Texas, to Catholic university alums, to a business organization like the IBO.
The parade is their definitive statement of their identity, their time to celebrate their history and heritage.
Back in the 19th century when the Know Nothings were shooting and killing Catholics, marching in such parades was a dangerous business for fear of being identified and attacked. Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral came under direct attack by the Know Nothings in 1836 and was saved by AOH defenders.
The times have changed for sure, but some would hang a scarlet letter over all who take part in the parade today even though they have absolutely nothing to do with the machinations of the parade committee.
Instead they are merely honoring their forefathers and the battles they won that allowed us to enjoy the status of the Irish in America today.
That’s is why the parade will endure, despite the poor leadership, because it is deep in the bones of our people.