Smaller crowd lines Fifth Avenue to watch St. Patrick's Day parade after 2-year pause
Irish eyes were smiling once again.
Under a light drizzle and in a sea of green, thousands packed viewing pens along Fifth Avenue on Thursday for a resuscitated St. Patrick's Day parade — ending a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Back were the pipes and drums, waving politicians, school bands and the Irish — and those Irish in spirit — marching between East 44th Street and East 79th Street to cheers from spectators whose numbers were fewer than in the past.
A New York City tradition since 1762, the parade in recent years drew some 100,000 participants and 2 million spectators, according to organizers’ past estimates. The parade's cancellation in 2020 was the first year the parade was postponed in its 250-year history.
Vincent Daly of Babylon Village, a retired Suffolk County cop, stood at the front of the police department's delegation, holding an Irish flag in a harness. He recalled attending the parade as a boy with his grandfather, James Dargan of East Islip, who was born in 1888 and originally from Meath, which is just north of Dublin, in eastern Ireland.
"I always think of my grandfather," Daly said, recounting their parade-day routine, including dining at a nearby restaurant.
What would the older man say, seeing his grandson march all these years later?
"He’d probably say, 'thanks, Vin, for keeping the tradition alive,'" said Daly, who retired from the homicide squad in 2008.
Chris Wink, North Babylon High School's band director, was happy to be back in person leading a 100-student procession at the parade.
"We took a few COVID years off, but now we’re back," he said, lamenting how much of that time was "Zoom school" — practicing via computer, virtually.
"It’s good to not have to be playing through a secret anymore," he said as the band played a rendition of the Backstreet Boys just south of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with "An Irish Party in Third Class" from "Titanic" soon after.
Drum major Kennedy Royal, 18, had last been in the parade in 2019 as a freshman and missed the experience as a sophomore and junior. She's glad to have the experience now in senior year: packing onto the bus into the city and enjoying "the adrenaline rush when we took our first steps onto the pavement of Fifth Avenue" and, of course, marching.
Her friend Grace Lottman, 17, who is in the kick line, said: "it was really great to get back to bringing people joy through music" after two years either online or having to record group performances to be played later.
The girls' moms were along for the experience on Fifth Avenue.
Other parents came to see their own kids, including Erik Lee, 49, and his wife, Ginger, 48, of Amityville, whose daughter Kyra, 16, was marching.
Erik recalled the parade when he attended as a younger man.
"It was a lot more packed, a lot rowdier then," Erik said. "A lot more drinking. A lot more having a good time."
"WELCOME BACK" read a handmade sign held by Patrick Delaney, 61, of Howard Beach, Queens, an illustration of St. Patrick taped on. The ink forming the words had run from the drizzle but Delaney was not deterred from continuing a lifelong tradition: the parade.
How long? "Oh, God. I’ve been coming since I’m five."
In an Irish cap, a cream-colored Aran sweater, a sheer green scarf and a shamrock necklace, Delaney said he missed attending the past two years.
"It's part of my life!"
Tom McKenna, 69, of Selden, was marching Thursday afternoon with about a dozen others from Suffolk County’s Ancient Order of Hibernians, who were back marching together after the two-year absence. But 2020 and 2021 weren’t bereft of celebrating. He attended Mass, as in years past, and marked the holiday in smaller ways.
Still, he said: "We couldn’t wait to be back."
This year, before marching, he attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Joe McDonald, 25, of Montauk, was carrying the banner of the charitable group the Montauk Friends of Erin. He hadn't planned to be in the parade — he had been fishing Thursday morning — but "they needed more people and I said yes," as the group turned into Fifth Avenue in the rain.
Mary Scanio, senior development officer of Molloy College in Rockville Centre, said the contingent was smaller than in years past; some stayed home due the pandemic.
"Some people are not ready yet," she said.
Asked whether he's Irish, the college president, Jim Lentini, joked: "I'm Italian, so it's the same thing."
As a mist turned into a drizzle, on went clear ponchos over all things green.
Audrey Loken's tchotchke business selling green bracelets, "IRISH" hats, gloves, flags, bow ties, beads and more was back — but slower than pre-pandemic.
But Loken — who lives in East Flatbush, is West Indian and in business with her sister specializing in various city parades — was undeterred.
As the parade ended, around 2 p.m., attendees stopped at her cart to shop before going home, as some others made a beeline to the bars.