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Wantagh organizes its first St. Patrick's Day parade

The parade along Wantagh Avenue joins others around Long Island that celebrate the holiday.

The hamlet of Wantagh deserves a special nod

The hamlet of Wantagh deserves a special nod as it's hosting its first-ever St. Patrick's Day parade on (appropriately) Sunday, March 17, led by Grand Marshal John Murray, Jr., owner of Mulcahy's Pub and Concert Hall. The inaugural event kicks off at 2 p.m. from Wantagh High School (the end of Beltagh Ave.) and runs south down Wantagh Ave. to Railroad Ave., where it turns left to wrap at Triangle Park. Photo Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

Long Island will have no shortage of opportunities next month to observe St. Patrick’s Day, but that won't stop Wantagh from adding its own Celtic celebration to the list.

"I've always thought we should have one," said Cathy McGrory Powell, president of the Wantagh Chamber of Commerce, which is organizing the Nassau community's first St. Patrick's Day parade this year. "I know other people did too."

Powell said she is unfazed by the crowded field of competitors, saying Wantagh's many residents of Irish descent deserve an opportunity to partake in the tradition closer to home. They'll do that this year on Sunday, when the South Shore hamlet's inaugural parade makes its way down Wantagh Avenue in what organizers hope will become an annual tradition.

"It's meaningful to a lot of people, especially in Wantagh," she said. "We do have a lot of people with Irish heritage here."

Powell counts herself among them, recalling watching the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade on television as a child with her grandmother, who emigrated from Dublin to New York City in 1928.

So too does Erin King Sweeney, a Hempstead Town councilwoman and Wantagh resident whose ancestry is about half Irish and whose husband is from Ireland.

"It's a source of pride, not only for those with Irish heritage but also for members of the Wantagh community," King Sweeney said of the upcoming parade.

Jeff Clark, president of the Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens, said the Island has around 10 St. Patrick's Day parades, some with deep roots, such as his organization's event in Mineola, which is more than 60 years old.

But he welcomed Wantagh's new celebration, "especially in that area of Nassau County, where there are no St. Patrick's Day parades," he said.

Despite the long history of St. Patrick's parades, it's not uncommon for communities today to establish new ones, said Mike Cronin, a professor of Irish history at Boston College who has written about the origins of the celebration.

The modern iteration traces back to efforts by a burgeoning Irish-American community in U.S. cities of the 19th century to demonstrate their power in the face of nativist and anti-Irish sentiment, he said.

But as the sheer success of such spectacles attracted increasing numbers of participants and onlookers, the meaning of the event changed, he said.

"Because of the very public display of parading … everybody wants in," he said. And "because St. Patrick's Day is so inclusive, it doesn't actually matter whether you've got a core Irish population or not" in a given place, he said, noting the event's increasingly global reach.

"You'd struggle to find a country without" a St. Patrick's Day parade, he said.

The Wantagh event will have many of the familiar trappings, including pipe bands, mounted police and civic groups marching, Powell said.

Whether it will distinguish itself from Long Island's more established parades in other ways remains to be seen.

"We don't really want to give too much away," Powell said. "You're just going to have to come and see."

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