History was made at the NY St. Patrick’s Day Foundation dinner at the New York Athletic Club on Wednesday night when the move of the parade into the 21st century became official.
A parade that looked on the verge of extinction, with sponsors and many leading Irish American running for the hills, has come back from the dead and looks like becoming the single greatest institution in the Irish community in America once again.
The battle with the old guard, who were driving the parade over a cliff, has been won by men like Doctor John Lahey, the Chairman of the parade and men like Hilary Beirne and Sean Lane the founders of the St. Patrick’s Day foundation with the assistance of the Irish government and, crucially, Cardinal Timothy Dolan who blessed the compromise and working plan.
The new parade inclusiveness, allowing Irish LGBT to march, was baptized in style on Wednesday night by Grand Marshal George Mitchell, who delivered a speech that surely surpassed everyone that came before in the history of the parade.
Mitchell, the Irish peace process savior and once, as Senate Majority Leader, four heart beats from the presidency, is not normally an emotional man but he revealed just what his Irish heritage meant to him amid a packed room hanging on every word.
In the broader context he talked about the militias in his native Maine set up to stop the Irish coming over the Maine border and then the hate that those who came anyway faced at a time when “No Irish Need Apply” signs were rampant.
Turning to his own family, Mitchell’s father, son of an Irish immigrant, was an orphan adopted by an older Maine couple who grew up knowing little of his roots.
Indeed, his father only got a basic education and worked as a school janitor most of his life. His mother, a Lebanese immigrant, was illiterate.
Mitchell wonderfully caught the moment of the greatness of America, where he and his siblings all went to college and he went on to become one of the pre-eminent politicians in the United States, a man who turned down the Supreme Court when Bill Clinton offered it and most importantly for that poor orphaned boy who was his father, bringing peace to his ancestral homeland.
Mitchell spoke of walking the streets, hearing the accents, getting to know people who knew of his long ago family and he felt closer than ever to his roots.
It seems Mitchell was predestined to help Ireland.
At the event was Brendan Fay, founder of the Lavender and Green group and a devout Catholic who has persevered with dignity and grace for over 20 years and has finally been rewarded as well as Queens politician Danny Dromm who openly wept when the gay groups were allowed in the parade.
The 255th annual parade will rightly be one for the history books and a great example of what enlightened thinking can achieve. Success will have many fathers this St.Patrick's Day, a united parade for the first time in decades, a Grand Marshal who is the grandest of them all arguably and an Irish spirit that found a way, both through making peace in Ireland and solving the parade dilemma.
It’s a time to be proud to be Irish.