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New York's St. Patrick's Day parade is essentially a Catholic affair and one of the main players is not the AOH but Cardinal Timothy Dolan (center) Photo by: Flickr

Secret behind who really runs the NYC Saint Patrick’s Day Parade

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New York's St. Patrick's Day parade is essentially a Catholic affair and one of the main players is not the AOH but Cardinal Timothy Dolan (center) Photo by: Flickr

It may come as a surprise, but the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) no longer runs the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York.

Ask National AOH President Brendan Moore, who would be only too happy to inform you of that fact.

Yet commentators insist on getting it wrong. Almost every report names the AOH as the organizers.

Back in the 1990s, when massive lawsuits were threatened against the parade the AOH, America’s largest Irish organization, withdrew, fearing they would be targeted and bankrupted. That remains the situation.

The parade is run by an organization called the St Patrick’s Parade Committee, run by John Dunleavy, who does not speak for the AOH, nor I suspect, would he want to.

The parade committee that organizes the largest parade in the western world operates out of an office address in The Bronx and is staffed by just seven volunteers.

But there is another person who has huge say over the parade.

Step forward Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The parade at heart is Catholic, even more than it is Irish some argue. Parade Chairman John Dunleavy has always pointed out the importance of the link. He cherishes his close ties to Dolan and the feeling is apparently mutual.
 
In a 2007 interview in the New York Irish Examiner about allowing gays to march he stated that the admission of gays "…would change the spirit of the parade.

"It's not a coincidence that the parade starts with a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral."
 
Dunleavy, has been the head of the parade since 1993. He took over from Francis Beirne, who first encountered the gays seeking to march in 1991.

Dunleavy, the 75-year old Westmeath native, has outlasted and outfoxed many rivals over the years and earns a grudging respect even from rivals. Most importantly, friends say, he has fixed the finances of the parade.

He has picked fights in surprising spots. In recent years he has tangled with firemen when he reprimanded them over behavior, children in wheelchairs who were initially barred from taking part, and the ever present gays in the parade.

Hillary Beirne, an Irish-born schoolteacher and nephew of Frank Beirne is a key figure alongside Dunleavy on the committee as is Dr John Lahey, head of Quinnipiac University who has tried hard to help modernize the parade.

But looming behind all its big decisions is the figure of Cardinal Dolan who, just by his position, has a huge role to play. There seems little doubt he would have to be consulted on any accommodation with gay groups. It seems a long shot he would agree.

But these are different times; the Pope Francis statement “Who am I to judge?” when asked about the gay lifestyle was an intriguing hint that the same old certainties do not apply.

The question is does the Vatican's new writ run in New York and does it cover an accommodation on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade?

Only time will tell.

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