The March And April Celtic Parades In New York City
Parades are usually a kind of community solidarity which may be joyous or tragic. Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day parades show the communities recognition of the service (and sacrifices) made by the men and women who serve or served in the Armed Forces of the country. Other parades celebrate specific holidays or events such as the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island in Brooklyn which opens the season for the amusement area. The Halloween parade in Greenwich Village in Manhattan play out some of the fun and craziness of that holiday in NY in its most “Bohemian” area. Even the famous Macy Thanksgiving Day Parade marks the opening of the Christmas season. Other parades or processions like those held in Italian neighborhoods often mark the boundaries of the communities. Some parades also celebrate people’s ethnicity or places of origin such as the West Indian American Day. The largest, oldest and most famous of these is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan.
Without a doubt, March and April are Celtic months in New York City. There are at least four St. Patrick’s Day parades in New York City There are three in the “outer” boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens) and of course, the main one in Manhattan. The parades are usually preceded by a mass at one of the Catholic Churches near the parade route.
According to Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair’s fascinating book The Wearing of the Green A History of St. Patrick’s Day* (p 10), the First St. Patrick’s Day parade in North America seems to have been a military one held in 1766. Manhattan is the site of the most famous and grandest St. Patrick’s Day parade in NYC, but certainly not the only one. It first appeared. Time Warner reports this year’s parade is the 253rd which would mean that the first parade was in 1762 (or else someone has been calculating in the new math). At any rate – it is pretty old!
The Staten Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade
The Staten Island parade, now more than 50 years old, took place on March 1st this year making it one of the two “first” of the St, Patrick’s Day Parades in New York City. The parade generally has a crowd of more than 50,000 and is an extremely popular event on the island
The St. Patrick's Parade & Irish Fair in Sunnyside, Queens
This parade is described by its organizer, Brendan Fay, as small spirited and inclusive. Starting and 2:00 pm, at 43rd Street and Skillman Ave., the parade marches east on Skillman to 56th Street.
The parade started as a result of the rejection of gay and lesbian groups from the older, larger and more famous parade, this parade is known for its being a neighborhood event with few tourist coming but it is also seen as a good “warm up event” for the Manhattan parade 16 days later.
The Rockaway Queens Parade
Close behind the Staten Island parade, on Saturday, March 7th, a St. Patrick’s Day a parade was held in Rockaway in Queens. Rockaway was a strong Irish community for many years and still has a sizable Irish population.
The parade starts at Beach 129th St and Newport Ave. and goes along Newport Ave. to Beach 116th St and from there To Rockaway Beach Blvd. The parade goes along Rockaway Beach Blvd. and ends at Beach 100th St and Rockaway Beach Blvd. at St. Camillus parking lot.
Rockaway is a community that was badly damaged by super storm Sandy and the parade is a kind of community celebration which has been particularly significant since then. Mayor DeBlasio, was scheduled to show up, but was late. He managed to boycott the parade last year because he thought it did not allow gays to march, but alas, he got the wrong parade for that accusation. When he did show up this year he got the name of the parade chair wrong. This year (after his late arrival) he was roundly booed by the audience who chanted “Worse Mayor ever” In part, there has been enormous animosity between the mayor and the police – sufficiently strong that many of the police turn their backs on him when he appears. Rockaway has a large number of police, firefighters and care givers living in it so the insult has a more complex meaning.
The Manhattan St. Patricks Day Parade
The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan is traditionally held on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th. This year was no exception. The 253rd parade left 5th Ave. and 44th Street at 11 a.m. and proceeded its nearly 2 mile route up to 79th Street, just south of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The last of the participants finished about 4 pm. The New York Times reported that approximately 2,000,000 spectators watched the event.
The major St. Patrick’s Day parade has been in the forefront of battles over whether gays and lesbians would be allowed to march in the parade as gay and lesbian organizations. This year, for the first time, the parade allowed a single gay and lesbian organization to march. New York’s mayor De Blasio (nee Warren Wilhelm) refused to appear at the parade last year because of this. This year he again refused on the grounds the parade organizers had not gone far enough.
The Throggs Neck Parade in The Bronx
Just about a week later, on Sunday March 15th, the Bronx has its own St. Patrick’s Day parade. This year was the 17th year this parade has been held. Like the other parades, this one is preceded by a mass at a local church In this case St. Benedict’s was the church. Following that there was a complimentary breakfast served in the Father Albert Hall. The breakfast having been donated by the Schuyler Hill Funeral home.
The parade marches off at noon and heads down East Tremont Ave to Harding Ave. where it turns right and passes the reviewing stand on its way to Brinsmade Ave. The route takes the marchers on a trip of about a mile and half.
After the parade people continued to celebrate their Irish heritage with Irish food, traditional music and so on.
The Park Slope Brooklyn Parade
The first of the TWO Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day parades took off on the same day as the Throggs Neck Parade. The parade takes place in Park Slope and the route takes the marchers begins at 15th<.sup> Street and Prospect Park West and proceeds along 15th Street to 7th Ave, where it turns right and continues down 7th Ave. to Garfield Place. Another right turn and the marchers head for Prospect Park West. Then the parade turns right again and continues along Prospect Park West back to 15th Street
The Bay Ridge Brooklyn Parade
Yet another St. Patrick’s Day parade came in Brooklyn on March 22st when a parade will take place in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn. The parade marched down 3rd Ave from Marine Parkway to 67th Street a distance of about 1.7 miles. The organizers of the parade constitute a 501c not-for-profit corporation and are working to create a scholarship fund to neighborhood children attending Catholic schools.
Like the other parades this has its share of pipe bands from different city agencies and schools (both regular schools and dance schools) and also had a number of floats – including one from The Celtic Rose Tea Room
The Tartan Day Parade
On April 11th, less than a month after the major St. Patrick’s Day parade, New York’s Tartan Day parade will kick off. The Tartan Day parade travels just under a half a mile uptown on Sixth Ave. from 45th Street to 54th Street. Various organizations including a large number of pipe bands will appear. There are a number of Scottish events that will be taken place all around New York City that week. For information on these events check the web site for Tartan week
One of the things we might conclude from all this is that the ethnic groups involved would have made it clear to the general population just who is who. But this seems not to be the case. A large number of Americans seem unable to distinguish between The United Kingdom, Great Britain and England. So aside from the people who come from or whose ancestry goes back to the area, there is often confusion about the terms. While almost everyone recognizes England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales as “countries” their relationship to one another seems murky to many. It is not uncommon for people to decide someone to say to a Scot, “Oh you have English citizenship (English=British you see!) and so the confusion goes on. When we find that the mayor of New York City has trouble telling one St. Patrick’s Day parade from another things are bad. You would think that a politician at that (or any other level) would be able to keep things like this straight, but it is a sort of “Irish are Irish” and what happens with one group is happening with all the others.
So it is not so surprising when people walking down 6th Ave. in Manhattan run into the Tartan Day parade one can easily hear comments like “Oh, its another Irish thing”. After all, kilts are associated with pipe bands and pipe bands are associated with the St. Patrick’s Day, and that is Irish so any parade with a good number of pipers heading somewhere in Manhattan in the spring is “likely to be an Irish” thing (especially when the St. Patrick’s Day parade has such a great time depth in NYC).
So while the parades may celebrate Irish cultural background on the one hand and Scottish on the other, the distinction tends to remain clear to those who come from those ethnicities and muddled for those who don’t. The interesting thing is despite the confusion, the problems faced by the two parades are rather different.
* Cronin, Mike and Daryl Adair (2002) The Wearing of the Green A History of St. Patrick’s Day Routledge Press, NY
ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANIZATION TO HELP SCOTLAND
The Animal Rights Association of Greatest Britain announced today, April 1, that it will not grant endangered species status to the Loch Ness Monster (affectionately known as “Nessie”). Instead the government has commission, at the cost of several million pounds, the creation of a “Nessie” Tartan, pointing out that this will be of great help to Scotland since many people will now flock (or perhaps “school”) there to purchase various items (such as swimming suits) in the new tartan.
"The “Nessie” Tartan: Green represents Nessie; blue represents the water of Loch Ness; not sure what the black and white represent, but the Red is all the blood Nessie has spilled." - Angus MacGuffin
A HISTORY OF SCOTLAND
This four disc set called A History of Scotland contains all ten parts of the BBC production hosted by Neil Oliver. A bonus fifth disc is a two part documentary called How the Celts Saved Britain with Dan Snow presenting the material is included. A small 24 page booklets accompanies the set of discs. The running time is 600 minutes. The series is based on Neil Oliver's book A History of Scotland: Look Behind the Mist and Myth of Scottish History.
History is both fact and interpretation and like all history, there is a good deal of interpretation involved in the analysis and presentation of the materials involved on these discs. This is complicated when a book is made into a video and an entirely new dimension - film making - is added to the material which involves all the techniques associated with that art. The appearance of reenactors and their interpretations of how people looked and behaved also add to the complexities of the presentation. (See Tom Doran's article in the March issue about artistic representations) Television channels which deal with history are constantly faced with these problems and have resorted to a variety of techniques to make the productions more interesting and yet remain true to the historical events. Sometimes entertainment wins out over history (as it does not only in programs about history but in both news reporting as well as weather forecasting on television). We are all aware how in Mel Gibson's film Braveheart, the famous battle at Stirling occurs with the bridge which was crucial to the campaign bring conspicuously absent.
The production values are high as one would expect with a BBC production. The aerial photography which occurs throughout is spectacular - Scotland is a remarkably photographic country! As far as the historical aspect of the video is concerned, it is likely that there will be debates among scholars as to its accuracy or the selection of the materials. Yet all history is properly subjected to that kind of scrutiny. Data is usually agreed upon, but interpretation is another story. Aye, there's the rub!
Scotland, of course, has not always had the political structure or geographic boundaries it has now, so the evolution of the country politically and geographically is an important part of the history of the country (as it is indeed on any country). The series does take pains to make sure the viewer understands how crucial the role of the Gaels was in the formation of Scotland in the early formation of the country as a single unit. In that time, the isles were seen as the heart of Scotland with Finlaggen on Islay as its political center and Iona as its spiritual one. The part of Scotland which we now see as central was then peripheral. It is these kinds of reversals and developments that are the stuff of which history is made. Countries form and develop and with the country, a set of beliefs and myths which support the countries institutions and actions. These are accepted, rejected and modified as the country evolves over time.
The set constitutes a kind of introductory course on Scottish history and to the degree that any history course is selective this is certainly a dramatic one and gives a general overview of country's history and the long and often turbulent relationships with the peoples both within and outside of Scotland. The set discusses not only political developments but important cultural information such as the importance of language. The impact of English on a Gaelic speaking country and the attitudes towards these languages persist until this day.