If there’s a Guinness record for consecutive years of marching in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, Andrew “Mel” Kenny would likely be the champ.
Andrew “Mel” Kenny, the son of immigrants from Co. Longford will take his 76th stroll up Fifth Avenue when this year’s parade takes on Saturday, March 16.
Kenny, 80, first started marching when he was five years old with his parents, who raised him and his sister in the city. “As soon as we could march, that’s when my father brought us,” Kenny told the Irish Voice.
“It was a great tradition. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Once Kenny went to Power Memorial Academy for high school, and Fordham University for undergrad studies, he marched with the school units – the brother in charge at Power taught the students proper marching techniques. But he always made a point of turning around to take a second trip with Longford too.
For the past 50 years, Kenny has marched with the Nassau County Police Department; he’s a retired cop who rose the ranks to the second deputy police commissioner. For many of those years, he was in charge of the department’s marching unit as the adjutant, making sure that those behind the banner looked good and marched in formation.
“For many years we were voted the best unit in the parade, and if not the best, then we were in the top five,” Kenny says.
Taking part in the New York City parade is a Kenny family tradition. His three adult children are pretty much regulars on the route too, having been introduced to St. Patrick’s Day on Fifth Avenue when they were youngsters.
One of his daughters couldn’t possibly forget the Irish holiday – her father arranged for her to get engaged on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral while the parade was in full flight.
“Karen met her future husband at one of the parades, and we thought it would be great if she got engaged at the Cathedral. So I worked it out and her future husband proposed to her on the steps. And Cardinal O’Connor was there to bless them and the ring,” he said.
Another fond memory came when Kenny marched a few blocks with the famed Irish actress Maureen O’Hara, who served as grand marshal in 1999. “I remember how nice she was and how happy she was to be there,” Kenny said.
This week will be an especially busy one for the Kennys. On Wednesday, March 13, the New York St. Patrick’s Parade Foundation will honor Kenny for his devotion to the parade, alongside this year’s grand marshal Brian O’Dwyer.
Kenny takes part in other parades on Long Island – Mineola, Farmingdale -- but none could possibly mean more than the annual journey on Fifth Avenue.
“It’s a very special place for me. I will never forget marching with my father, especially when he was president of the Longford Association. It was a big honor for all of us,” he recalls.
What would it take for Kenny to miss a St. Patrick’s Day in New York? He laughs. “Oh, I can’t even imagine, but it would take a lot!”