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St. Patrick's Day twice unlucky with pandemic forcing more home and virtual celebrations

Gordon Highlanders band at the St. Patrick's Day

Gordon Highlanders band at the St. Patrick's Day Parade on New York Avenue in Huntington on March 8, 2020. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Luck of the Irish? Not quite.

St. Patrick's Day, a holiday known for groups of Irish Americans — and those just Irish at heart — gathering at a pub for a pint of Guinness and a plate of corned beef and cabbage, will be the first holiday to be hit twice by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year's coronavirus lockdown, which went into place in New York on March 16, forced the cancellation of many parades, banquets and boozy festivities, although some lucky groups were able to squeeze in their events just before life came to a screeching halt.

One year later, life is slowly returning to normalcy as infections decline and vaccinations spike. But it's still not easy being green in 2021.

The threat of the virus remains persistent while 50% capacity regulations at bars and restaurants — expanding to 75% in locales outside of New York City on Friday — likely equates to a toned-down St. Paddy's Day for Long Islanders that will hardly resemble pre-pandemic shamrockin' revelry.

"People will get together on their own and they'll follow the protocols," said Dermot Kelly, president of the Islip-based Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. "We wish it was different … but we have to be responsible. And if the COVID regulations don't let us do it, we're not going to do it."

More than 13% of Long Islanders claim Irish heritage, the ninth highest rate among large cities, according to U.S. Census data reported last year by Irish Central, a Manhattan-based digital media company. Among individual neighborhoods, 45.6% of Point Lookout residents claim Irish heritage, second nationwide only to 54.3% in Breezy Point/Rockaway Point.

Nationwide, just under half of all U.S. adults plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, according to an annual survey from the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

But only 10% say they'll go to a bar or restaurant while 13% said they'd hoist a pint at a private party. More than 40% plan to make a special Irish-inspired dinner at home while 32% will decorate their home or office in green, the survey found.

Lorcan Phelan, co-owner of both The Irish Times in Holbrook and the James Joyce in Patchogue, plans a muted celebration this year, with a heavy focus on takeout.

"There’s definitely a sense that people want to get back to normal," Phelan said last month. "I don’t think anyone thought it would last for a year."

New York City's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade down Fifth Avenue on Thursday will be replaced by a virtual event due to the continued pandemic.

The Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk & Queens hosted a scaled-down parade on March 7, with about 50 members, all in masks, marching down Willis Avenue in Mineola, which had been painted green for the occasion. Last year, the society held its festivities only days before the shutdown was put in place.

"We recognize the seriousness of this and the possibility of any exposure and we didn't want to be a superspreader," said Brigid McNulty, the society's president. "We are taking it very seriously and not just saying, 'it's our holiday; now we're safe so let's go out and celebrate.'

The key, McNulty said, is to get back to normal as soon as possible.

"We're all very conscientious that we want to really come out and celebrate our traditions and our customs and get back to enjoying each other's company and dancing and experiencing our culture again," she said. "We want to see family and friends but don't want to be reckless about it."

Meanwhile, the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick have moved their annual Emerald Ball from March to June 18, when it can be held safely outdoors.

"The Irish are people that don't give up. So we'll just move it a couple of months," Kelly said. "I am sure St. Patrick will understand."

A proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

With Corin Hirsch

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