The oldest -- and largest -- St. Patrick's Day Parade on Long Island is set to step off on Sunday, marking the 80th celebration of the Huntington event.
Hosted in downtown Huntington by the Huntington Ancient Order of Hibernians, the tradition has become integral in Huntington's Irish history -- and a family affair for many.
The Feeneys -- residents of the town for six generations -- will have a family member serve as a grand marshal for the fourth time.
Dominick Feeney Jr. of Melville, is slated to serve. His grandfather, Martin Feeney Sr., was grand marshal in 1960; his father and namesake, Dominick Feeney Sr., 81, was grand marshal in 1979; and his uncle, Martin Feeney Jr., did duty in 1985.
"It's an honor," said Dominick Feeney Jr., 59, who attributes his selection to his family's long-standing active role as parade participants. "I know my father is proud and so is my uncle. It's like a fraternity that many people would like to be a part of, so it's sort of a privilege."
Unlike the New York City parade, the event is open to all, provided marchers are preregistered and no unofficial banners are carried.
The first Huntington St. Patrick's Day Parade was held in 1930, although it is unclear who the first organizers were, said Megan Lavery, a spokeswoman for the Huntington Hibernians. In 1933, it was organized by the Irish American Social Club, which was founded that year as a way to advance educational, economic, commercial and social status. They met at Finnegan's, Huntington's first bar to open following Prohibition.
"They probably formed the Irish American Social Club for the same reasons any other ethnic group forms such organizations: to foster pride in and educate the younger generation about their heritage," said Robert Hughes, Huntington Town historian and a member of the Hibernians.
In those days, a dinner dance was held the night before the parade at Odd Fellows Hall on Wall Street. Later, it was moved to the Hotel Huntington on New York Avenue. With the exception of the World War II years, the tradition of a parade on the second Sunday in March has held.
In 1947, the Suffolk County Ancient Order of Hibernians created a division covering the Huntington area, which was expected to work with the social club. "Although there was a significant Irish population in Huntington starting in the 1850s, the local Irish apparently did not get involved with such a group until a hundred years later," Hughes said.
The parade is privately funded -- costing roughly $50,000 -- and attracts an estimated 50,000 people, organizers said.
Dominick Feeney Sr. said he is proud his son is carrying on the tradition. "It means a lot to me," he said.
Hughes said the parade tradition has taken on a special meaning. "Its importance and the importance of the social club and the AOH lie in what they represent: a celebration of the contributions of the Irish to the growth of the town," he said. "No more, no less than any other ethnic group that has a significant population here. The Irish just seem to celebrate it better."
IF YOU GO
The parade begins at 2 p.m. on New York Avenue, just north of the Huntington train station and heads north to Main Street, turns west on Main and ends at the reviewing stand in front of St. Patrick's Church. The route is roughly 2 ¼ miles.
The parade will feature at least 18 bands, including 14 pipers.