“I think they have Leprechauns in this parade,” 9-year-old Kate McNerney said Sunday afternoon as she sat in the back of her family’s minivan, sipping hot cocoa with her 5-year-old sister, Shayla, and waiting for the 22nd annual Bethpage St. Patrick’s Day Parade to start.
The girls, who had traveled from Merrick to watch their grandpa -- former Bethpage Fire Commissioner Nick Markakis -- march down Stewart Avenue, were among the many families who braved the 30-degree weather to take part in the celebration.
Like the McNerney girls, many came out to support relatives who were marching in the parade, which featured local veterans, pipes and drums, Irish step dancers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, “Teddy Roosevelt” and volunteer firefighters from Bethpage and surrounding communities.
Kaitlin Mulvihill, 7, didn’t know anyone in the parade, but she traveled from Seaford with her family, as they do every year, to meet up with friends and watch the spectacle.
“I like the drummers with the pom pom sticks,” said the Maria Regina School student, who plays in the Seaford school’s pipes and drums band.
Attending the parade for a second year was Dominick Gontarek, 5, of Bethpage, who said he too was looking forward to seeing the bagpipers and drummers perform as he stood on Broadway with his parents, clutching a stuffed dog he named Squirt and waving an Irish flag.
“This is a great hometown parade,” said Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, a Bethpage native who served as grand marshal two years ago. “It’s a real family and community event … Just look at how many of our residents come out and enjoy a wonderful day, celebrating St. Patrick and enjoying in some merriment afterward.”
Mangano joined other former grand marshals, community members and this year’s grand marshal, Deacon Thomas R. Hennessy, for a Mass at St. Martin of Tours before the parade kicked off at 2 p.m.
“It’s nice how they have the Mass first,” he said. “It reminds you of why you are celebrating the day.”
Mangano described Hennessy as a “wonderful gentleman” whose family donates a great deal of time and effort to the church.
“It’s beyond belief to see all these people out here, wishing me so well,” Hennessy said. “It’s just wonderful and I appreciate it so much.”
Although Hennessy has marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York City, he said, the Bethpage one is special to him, adding, “Since it’s in your hometown, it’s a big thrill.”
After the parade made its way from Central Avenue to Broadway, Hennessy was honored during a brief ceremony. The festivities then continued inside St. Martin of Tours, where a party was held featuring live Irish music, dancing, food and libations.
Mangano added, “Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”