A break in the nasty weather summoned nearly two million spectators to line Fifth Avenue for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade March 17.
Mayor Eric Adams told reporters as he was stepping off, “Our firefighters, our teachers, our members of the Police Department, this is a blue collar community. I’m a blue collar mayor. I feel home at this parade.”
He marched up the avenue with Laura Kavanagh, the FDNY Fire Commissioner, who has been under fire for shakeups she is making with the top brass of the FDNY.
The crowd was a little less than organizers had initially predicted. “It looked a little less crowded on TV,” said veteran parade-goer Tim McCann. “I guess because so many people are not back in their offices yet.”
None of the revelers, who came from across the globe, seemed to mind. Stephen O’Brien, who flew in from Dublin for the event said, “It’s amazing.” And his brother David agreed that “there’s no comparison” with the Dublin parade–the New York parade “is far bigger. Everyone is really friendly, and when they find out you’re actually from Ireland, they say, ‘you’re the real Irish’.”
Kevin Conway, the vice chairman of private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and with family ties in counties Leitrim, Cork, Meath and Limerick, was the grand marshal of the 262nd annual parade and led marchers up the avenue for the nearly two mile march. [Even in 2020 when COVID racked the country and cancelled the parade, a small band of marchers made their way up Fifth Avenue at daybreak with a police escort just to keep the unbroken tradition alive.]
Mayor Adams had hosted Irish leaders for breakfast at Gracie Mansion to kick things off that morning. Among those in attendance was 91 year old Malachy McCourt, Brooklyn-born and Limerick raised, who had been the subject of an 1,800 word article in the New York Times days earlier. “I made it to another St. Patrick’s Day,” he said.
“I’ve been here since 2005, but this is my first parade,” said Leeza Koval, who said she was half Russian and half Ukrainian. She blew kisses to the firefighters carrying the American flags.
Caomh McCauley, 26, was in town with the Kildare County Fire Service from Ireland. “This is brilliant,” he said. He said the New York parade is “much, much bigger” than the parades in Ireland. “There’s more emergency services represented here,” he said, adding “We’re marching with the FDNY.” He said he has two cousins in the FDNY, Brian and Sean Gorman, who were working at firehouses in the Bronx.
His fellow firefighter from Kildare, Josh O’Donnell said, “It’s my second time over but the first time at the St. Patrick’s Day parade.”
As always, the FDNY provided a somber reminder and is a continuing focal point of the revelers along the route. There were 343 firefighters carrying an American flag, each representing one of the firefighters who died when the towers fell on 9/11. And in the caps of each firefighter bearing a flag was the name of one of the their fallen comrades.
In front of the flagbearers a banner of black and purple bunting with the number 343 and the words, “still counting” as a reminder that so many of the men who dug on the pile at the WTC for months afterwards are now dying of 9-11 related illnesses. Beyond the firefighters was another banner for families of 9-11 victims. One held a sign in memory of his father. “I was two years old when he died,” the hand held sign read.
Bob Poneel, a retired Lt. from Engine 225 in Brooklyn, had been at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and was once again decked out in full dress uniform, trying to keep the younger guys in line. Looking at the flags as the FDNY shaped up on west 47th St. he remarked, “It’s a privilege and an honor to be carrying one of those flags.”
And as they shaped up ready to start the two mile march up Fifth Ave., one of his mates started giving him a good natured ribbing that the line of march pre-parade was looking a little loose. “Dial ‘em in bro, you better get your radio guys. Twelve across.”
By the time they swung left onto Fifth Ave., they had snapped to attention, white gloves firmly on flags, 12 across.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be carrying one of those flags.” FDNY Lt. [retired] Bob Poneel, who rode in Engine 225 from Brooklyn to the WTC on 9/11.