History was made at a well-attended New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee naming of the 2016 Grand Marshal at the New York Athletic Club, on Monday night.
Chairman of the Board Dr. John Lahey, President of Quinnipiac University, introduced the Grand Marshal, the Irish peace process architect Senator George Mitchell. But just as importantly he made clear the 2016 parade would be the most inclusive in history with the Lavender and Green Alliance joining the NBC gay group OUT@NBCUniversal.
Lavender and Green’s founder Brendan Fay could barely hide his excitement and joy at the turn of events. Barred from the parade every year except in 1991, when they were almost driven off Fifth Avenue by vicious abuse, now they are welcome participants. Fay has worked diligently every year since, including starting a St. Patrick's For All parade in Queens to set the stage for acceptance, which was long overdue.
“This is a great day,” Fay stated. “Now we are recognized as an Irish group, no more discrimination with the same opportunity to march as everyone else.”
Senator George Mitchell is clearly an inspired choice. He delivered a dazzling and self-effacing speech, poking fun at those who have practically sanctified him for helping finish violence in Northern Ireland.
The choice of Mitchell was an inspired one, especially in such a controversial year for the parade when a rump of disaffected hardliners still resent the parade ever being opened up. John Dunleavy, the architect of that policy, was nowhere to be seen, a strange absence on a stage he once controlled with an iron grip.
Mitchell is the greatest symbolic counterweight to all that, a man who took what looked like an impossible job in Northern Ireland and made them feel part of a peaceful, powerful movement.
Mitchell spoke emotionally about his parents, poor as church mice, his mother with no English having immigrated from Lebanon, his father raised in an orphanage. I only wished anti-immigration advocates could have been there to hear him.
Chairman of the Board John Lahey should be thanked also, as he coolly and calmly maneuvered through the hardliners and has emerged with the best, most inclusive parade in memory in 2016, on the 100th anniversary of Ireland’s Easter Uprising.
Cardinal Dolan also attended and gave his blessing to the parade, perfectly aware of the controversy surrounding it. It's a bold and inclusive move by the cardinal who doubtless saw irremediable damage to his beloved parade unless a solution was found.
As Master of Ceremonies Hilary Beirne noted, the parade had survived the original battle against the British, the Civil War, two World Wars and attempts to tear it apart from the inside.
It has emerged now at its strongest with a dedicated and enlightened board who deserve every credit for their work in ensuring the greatest parade of all continues as a symbolic reminder of what we Irish went through before we were accepted in America.