It looks like St. Patrick saved his best parade for last this year.
Saturday’s Yonkers parade, held for the first time on McLean Avenue, was an overwhelming success, with record crowds enjoying spring-like temperatures and an expanded event made possible by the merger of the 58-year-old Yonkers parade with its younger neighbor, the McLean Avenue march which began in 2012.
“I’m still overwhelmed by the success of the day,” said parade chairperson Deirdre O’ Mara, who retained her title after the two parades joined together.
The end of the parade was particularly poignant this year as a minute of silence was observed in memory of 15-year-old Kalie Gill, the local Irish girl who was killed by a runaway car in October at a church fair. Her sister Lindsey, now 13, was critically injured.
Lindsey, still in a wheelchair, was released from the hospital last Friday. She was at the parade with her parents, Leitrim natives Damien and Karen, and took part in the minute of silence at the reviewing stand, not far from where the tragic accident took place.
“It was so touching,” O’ Mara told the Irish Voice. “The parade was so loud up until that point. And then it was completely silent. It shows how much respect the community has for the Gill family.”
Yonkers police estimate that the crowd that flocked to McLean Avenue, decorated with shamrocks and a green line for the day, was between 18,000-25,000, surpassing the number that attended either parade in previous years. The sunshine undoubtedly helped swell the masses, and Irish businesses along McLean did record business.
Rory Dolan’s, the long-time Irish mainstay on the avenue, had a record-setting day for beer sales. The popular bar/restaurant, now opened for 20 years, was packed to capacity from morning until night. To accommodate the overflow, Rory’s pitched an outdoor tent with a bar and live music, and workers set up shop on the sidewalk to sell items like burgers and corned beef sandwiches.
“I can’t say enough about the day. It was a great parade, a great mix of young and old and everyone had a great time,” Dolan told the Irish Voice.
The parade attracted local participants and out of towners, including the AOH Division 1 Pipe Band from Newport, Rhode Island. Those watching the march enjoyed every minute.
“I always love this parade. I come every year without fail,” said Peggy Egan from Williston Park, Long Island. “This is definitely the biggest year yet. And the sun feels so good!”
The march this year was led by grand marshal Father Tom Collins, president of Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. Included in this year’s line-up of aides was Nuala Purcell, long-time photographer for the Irish Voice.
O’ Mara, a native of Dublin, acknowledged that the merger between the older Yonkers parade and the McLean Avenue event which she’s chaired since its inception in 2012 was sometimes difficult. The McLean parade in the heart of the Yonkers Irish community was an instant hit and last year attracted 15,000 spectators.
“I’m going to be honest. We did have our problems,” she said.
“The Yonkers people had their way of doing things, and we had ours. I see parades as being very colorful and very festive, kind of like we have at home in Ireland.
“But we got together and we built a great, family-friendly parade.”
It’s one that’s poised to grow even more in the years ahead as a post-St. Patrick’s Day wrap. Next year’s march is set for Saturday, March 21.
“And I guarantee it’s going to be even better,” Dolan promised.