The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade has stepped off 257 times, its many marchers including New Yorkers great and small, groups from all over the US and the world, and pipers and drummers beyond counting.
This year’s edition featured all of the above, with an estimated 150,000 marchers, including the mayor, the governor, the Irish prime minister (and his partner, Dr. Matthew Barrett), and for the third year, a contingent from the Lavender and Green Alliance (Muintir Aerach na hÉireann), the Irish organization for LGBTQ people and allies.
Many marchers gathered early Saturday morning, March 17 at Gracie Mansion for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s annual Irish breakfast. First Lady Chirlane McCray, welcomed the group to “The People’s House” and reminded them that March is also Women’s History Month, remarking that the first person to pass through Ellis Island in 1892 was Annie Moore, an Irish woman.
McCray introduced the mayor, who recognized NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Chief of Department Terry Monahan and introduced the head of the City Council’s Irish-American Caucus, out gay Daniel Dromm from Jackson Heights. Also introduced were Irish Consul General Ciarán Madden, Geraldine Byrne Nason, the permanent representative from Ireland to the United Nations, and the newly-appointed Irish ambassador to the US, Dan Mulhall, as well as Upper East Side Congressmember Carolyn Maloney.
The crowd cheered when this year’s grand marshal, Irish-American philanthropist Loretta Brennan Glucksman, only the fifth woman to be so honored, was introduced.
De Blasio spoke about the history of the Irish in New York and America, then brought to the podium Ireland’s taoiseach (prime minister), Leo Varadkar. A member of the Fine Gael Party, Varadkar was elected to Ireland’s highest office last year as the first out gay prime minister and also the first of Indian heritage.
Varadkar had visited the Stonewall Inn in the West Village the previous evening to meet with the co-chairs of the inclusive Queens St. Pat’s for All Parade, Brendan Fay and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, as well as ACT UP members who turned out. In his remarks at Gracie Mansion, Varadkar spoke of the $2.5 million grant from his country to the West Side’s Irish Arts Center.
Longtime Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who retired as head of the party last month after 35 years, followed Varadkar to the podium. Adams quoted Frederick Douglass saying it’s “harder to make peace than make war,” and jokingly recognized beloved actor and writer Malachy McCourt as “a brigand and a rounder!”
Guests enjoyed traditional music and Irish fare after the ceremony and quickly departed to prepare (or power nap) for the parade, which stepped off at 11 a.m.
“We march for the sake of our children and our young people as much as ourselves,” said Fay, founder of the Lavender and Green Alliance as well as the St. Pat’s for All Parade. “With the hope that they may only know welcome, hospitality, and belonging.”
Hundreds of groups lined up on feeder streets in the 40s on both sides of Fifth Avenue. Groups generally step off according to how many years ago they were first admitted to the parade. As a result, for the first two years it was allowed to participate, the Lavender and Green Alliance was placed toward the end and — given the size of the event — by the time its members stepped off the crowds had thinned considerably.
Grand marshal Glucksman, who was a 2016 grand marshal of the St. Pat’s for All Parade — launched nearly two decades ago to counter the longtime exclusion of gays from the Fifth Avenue event — lobbied for moving the group closer to the front, something organizers agreed to do.
Nearly 200 Lavender and Green marchers assembled on East 44th Street and were given L&G buttons and traditional sashes, made of lavender and green silk, to wear across their chests, with the leaders and marshals boasting intricately embroidered silks designed and made by Shohn Donaghy and Gaby Cyramade, with logos designed by Irish artist Robert Ballagh. Check-in and formation were conducted by a wealth of longtime LGBTQ activists, some of whom were involved in the original protests in the ‘90s to let Lavender and Green into the parade, including Jesús Lebron, Ken Kidd, Tarlach Mac Niallais, and Lisa Fane.
Each group marching selects its own honorary grand marshal, and Lavender and Green chose Judith Kasen-Windsor, spouse of the late activist Edie Windsor — whose federal lawsuit led to the 2013 demise of the Defense of Marriage Act — and an activist and organizer in her own right.
“I burst into tears when I found out,” Kasen-Windsor said later. “I marched for Edie and it was touching and emotional, and I wish she could have been here with us today.”
Supporters who assembled behind the group banner included Fay and D’Arcy, McCourt, Staten Island Pride Center executive director Carol Bullock (whose group was denied admittance to that borough’s March 4 St. Patrick’s Parade), former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former State Senator Thomas Duane, who was recovering from back surgery.
“I’ll march until I get to the cameras,” Duane joked.
They were joined by disability activist Anastasia Somoza, her twin sister Alba, and their mother Mary, along with disabled FDNY veteran and activist Gene Walsh, drag queen and TV personality Lady Clover Honey (Welsh), novelist/ playwright Honor Molloy, and the 2017 St. Pat’s for All grand marshal Phil Donahue.
Sinn Féin’s new president, Mary Lou McDonald, as well as Louise O'Reilly, a member of the Irish Dáil (its parliament), also marched with Lavender and Green, and de Blasio joined in for several blocks.
Shortly after 11:30, to the skirling strains of the Monaghan Pipe Band (the next group in the parade order), the Lavender and Green Alliance stepped onto Fifth Avenue.
The 1.4-mile march north from 44th St. to 79th St. featured hundreds of thousands of spectators, as well as hundreds of law enforcement officers, some in body armor with automatic weapons. Parade chair Dr. John Lahey, the president of Quinnipiac University, welcomed Lavender and Green as it marched by, as did grand marshal Glucksman.
The crowd offered few anti-LGBTQ protesters: a group near Central Park displayed a banner reading “MARRIAGE IS 1 MAN AND 1 WOMAN” and a handwritten sign: “Don’t Repeal the 8th” (referring to an upcoming referendum in Ireland that would reform that country’s anti-abortion laws). Later on, a single protester, a man in biblical-style robes and a beard, held up a Bible as the marchers passed.
“They should have a drink,” Duane quipped afterwards. “I can’t… they should!”
Duane did make it all the way to the end, and, before dispersing, the Lavender and Green contingent took pictures and exchanged hugs. Some went to get a bite to eat or headed off for St. Patrick’s Day parties. Others simply went home to rest their aching feet.