The mood was festive – and a bit cautious – among the 100-plus supporters of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade who attended the formal introduction of the 2015 parade grand marshal, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, at the New York Athletic Club last night.
Change was definitely in the air – that much was evidenced by the huge media presence at the event. The Irish Voice newspaper and IrishCentral broke the historic news earlier in the day that a gay contingent from NBC would be the first ever marchers taking part in the parade behind an identifying banner, and interest in the grand marshal’s introduction was at an all-time high.
The cardinal was introduced by the Parade Committee Vice Chairman Dr. John Lahey, President of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and the parade grand marshal in 1997. Lahey praised Dolan as an “inspirational figure for the city and the nation,” and added that the cardinal, who has roots in Co. Cavan and is frequent visitor to Ireland, has “invigorated” the church.
Dolan, for his part, expressed gratitude for being asked to lead the march and the pride he felt in leading a parade that celebrated “our love of our Irish heritage, linked to the patron saint of Ireland.”
The cardinal also made mention of the fact that there were “many occasions” when the church in Ireland “like ourselves, had not lived up to its ideal” – but his formal remarks did not include any mention of the seismic shift that permitted the addition of the NBC gay group in next year’s parade.
But when Lahey opened the floor to questions from the media, the first was directed at Dolan, who was asked for his opinion on the inclusion of a gay marching group, and he gave his seal of approval.
The decision, he said, “wasn’t mine to make,” while adding, “I have no trouble with the decision at all … I think the decision is a wise one.
“Three years ago the parade published an excellent history of the parade … one thing you’ll see there is that the parade has never been free of controversy. Some people say that‘s part of the Irish heritage as well.”
Lahey also took questions from the more than two-dozen national and local media members in attendance. He said the application to march from NBC’s LGBT support group, OUT@NBCUniversal was the only one received from any gay group.
“It was approved unanimously,” Lahey added.
He was also asked about the possibility of other gay groups marching next year, though an earlier statement issued by the committee stated that the NBC group would be the only one permitted, with other groups having the chance to apply for admission in following years.
“We don’t encourage or discourage applications from other local groups,” Lahey said, adding that the parade is “under some pressure and has been for several years from the city of New York to shorten the parade, and that’s been a real deterrent for us for entertaining groups.
“But this is a very special year,” Lahey added, “and we think that the admission of OUT@NBCUniversal is appropriate.”
Pressure from sponsors, Lahey said, didn’t factor into the committee’s decision.
“This is an issue that has been out there for many, many years and we thought this was the right time, and we got an application from what we thought was the right group, and that was what led to this decision.”
After the formal proceedings concluded, Dolan stayed for the best part of an hour to greet guests and pose for pictures. The Irish Voice and IrishCentral spoke to several guests who supported the inclusion of the NBC gay group in next year’s parade. “I think it’s great. It’s time to move on and it will be good for the parade,” said Madeline Conlon, an Irish American from Middle Village, Queens who never misses the march on Fifth Avenue.
Conlon’s viewpoint was shared by many Irish American veteran parade-goers and local Irish county officials – many of whom chose not to go on the record with their point of view. “I think it’s fine, I don’t have a problem with it really because we’re all equal,” one long-time Irish county leader said.
“But please, don’t quote me on that. It might be a bit too soon.”