The Irish tend not to give you credit until at least 15 years after your death.
It's nothing personal. We just like to be sure about you. Unless you're a national sports star or a famous actor or the owner of an impressive fortune, you may find you go unsung by us for too long.
There are a lot of reasons why we're this cautious, which we will save for another day. Let's suffice to say we can be notably (and unpardonably) slow to give outstanding people their due.
On Sunday, as I walked along Skillman Avenue in Queens toward the crowds gathering on 46th Avenue for the St. Pat's for All parade, it began to snow. It started off with light flurries but as I walked from block to block it quickly intensified, leaving a light dusting on my coat and knitted hat. It was very beautiful to look at, because snow when it's falling often is.
By the time I reached 44th Street I could hear an Irish jig, a good one, well played. It's amazing the power they have to lift your spirits, but I and all around me were already in good form.
Then I saw a few hardy Irish dancers already doing some practice steps on the closed off street. There was a sense of occasion despite the snow.
Claret, the well known Sunnyside wine bar and restaurant, had been selected as the march headquarters, and already the parade leaders and the top tier of City Hall had arrived and were in festive form. There was a kind of medieval bonhomie at work, which often happens when people are faced with the uncooperative elements. Bad weather makes everyone family.
Some fortified themselves with an early drink, others ordered coffee, and the inevitability of the situation was faced: this would be a St. Patrick's Day Parade in a mini-blizzard. So what?
Once you realized that inescapable fact you moved beyond it to the sights and sounds of the morning. There was a lot to see and hear. Bagpipes competed with traditional musicians, singers took the podium and wowed the crowds, dancers put on impromptu displays that attracted applause.
The hush that descends every time it snows only made the music louder and the colors brighter. It was already, as the Irish say, the best of craic.
The parade grand marshals were the Tony Award winning Irish actor Brian F. O'Byrne and the longtime human rights activist Kerry Kennedy (RFK's daughter). Both were uncommonly eloquent speakers, which became apparent when I asked them why they had agreed to march.
“I remember as a child my grandmother Rose Kennedy bringing me up to the attic of her house where she had scrapbooks,” Kennedy told me. “She had cut out clips of newspaper help wanted ads from when she was a kid that said No Irish Need Apply.
“The people of Ireland were oppressed by the Brits for 500 years and when we came here to the United States to the land of the free we were met with more oppression. We of all people should be particularly sensitive to this issue of hatred.”
Kennedy was speaking about the reason that the St. Pat's for All parade was originally started in 2000. Banned by the high handed and deeply homophobic parade organizers on Fifth Avenue, Irish gay groups led by community activist Brendan Fay and their principled allies like community leader Kathleen Walsh D'Arcy, founded the Queens parade as a rejoinder to the angry exclusion and prejudice that had been directed at some Irish groups.
But over the 16 years of its life the Queens event has done something remarkable. What began as a modest protest has developed into a growing vision of Irish life as it is actually lived in this city in 2015.
That means it is not only the province of the Irish themselves, but also of their friends, partners and colleagues. All New York comes out.
The parade makes common cause with every other immigrant group in the city and it can deeply relate to their stories. That's part of its unique strength.
It also has considerable political power, but it eschews all the pomp and self-importance in favor of a homespun vision of welcome and hospitality that makes the Fifth Avenue parade look like a Soviet style remnant of an earlier time in comparison.
St. Pat's for All has enormous heart, which is what the Irish are famous for, and it rolls out the welcome mat to everyone who applies to march. It's non-hierarchical, it gives everyone their voice and their moment in the sun (or snow) and by doing so it actually represents the best of our culture.
No one is more important. Everyone has their say.
Despite the flurries people were in sweet tempers on Sunday. The crowds were simply having fun and making new friends along the route. I heard a lot of delighted laughter and I met a lot of my hand shaking neighbors.
So I think it's already past time we acknowledged that by making this parade happen year after year as a labor of love and commitment to justice, Brendan Fay and Kathleen Walsh D'Arcy and the entire board of St. Pat's for All have really done something transformative and beautiful.
They took insult and anger and turned it into gold. That's a work of magic that's as strong as the parade itself.
More power to them. Tell them when you see them.