A Who’s Who of Grand Marshals
By Katie McFadden, Editorial Assistant
April / May 2011
Grand Marshals of St. Patrick’s Day Parades across the nation.
From New York to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and from Rock Island, Illinois to New London, Wisconsin, thousands of people from a range of backgrounds will come together to cheer on and participate in St. Patrick’s Day Parades. Here’s a look at some outstanding Irish Americans around the country who have been chosen by their communities to lead the marchers, dancers, bands, societies, and floats down the parade route.
New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade is the largest in the world, with around two million spectators and 250,000 participants. In its 250th year, the New York parade honors world renowned Irish-American writer Mary Higgins Clark as Grand Marshal. Clark is best known for her best-selling suspense novels such as Where Are The Children? She was born and raised in the Bronx but traces her Irish roots to western Ireland, with ancestors from counties Roscommon, Sligo, and Cork. Clark is a current board member of the American Irish Historical Society and she was also given the papal honor, Dame of Saint Gregory. The 83-year-old Clark will lead the parade up Fifth Avenue in a horse-drawn carriage on St. Patrick’s Day, making her the first Grand Marshal to not walk the route.
Savannah is home to the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world. The first parade was held in 1813 and is now entering its 187th year. The three-hour celebration, held on March 17, has over 350 marching units. The Grand Marshal chosen to lead this grand celebration is Walter Crawford who traces his roots back to Ireland on both sides of his family. Crawford said that serving as the parade’s grand marshal is something he’s often dreamed of. “I’ve never missed a parade,” he said. “You grow up with it and grow into it.”
Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade is another grand event. On the morning of the parade, the Chicago River is dyed a bright emerald green to represent the lands of Ireland. This year’s parade, on March 12th, features Mayor Richard J. Daley and his wife Maggie as grand marshals. Mayor Daley, who decided not to run for re-election, has held his position as Chicago’s Mayor since 1989, making him the longest serving mayor in the city’s history. Throughout his tenure, he has helped improve the city’s education system, economy, gun control, and overall quality of life.
In 2010, Northwestern University Hospital dedicated a cancer center in Maggie Daley’s name. Maggie has been battling cancer since 2002.
The theme of this year’s parade in Philadelphia, held on March 13th, is “St. Patrick, Bless Our Religious Sisters Who Serve, Inspire and Educate.” In recognition of this theme, Sister James Anne Feerick was chosen as Grand Marshal. She has been a member of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary since 1960, and serves as director and teacher at the IHM Educational Center in Bryn Mawr. In 2010, Sister James Anne was a recipient of the Mayo Association of Philadelphia’s President’s Award. She has kept Irish culture as a significant part of her life. Growing up Sister James Anne played the violin on the “Will Regan’s Irish Hour.” She was also a student at the Sean Lavery School of Irish Dance in West Philadelphia, and has taught her own Irish dance lessons, giving her the nickname the “dancing nun.” Running for over 240 years, the Philadelphia parade is the second oldest in the country.
In the sunshine state of Florida, Wini Amaturo will be Grand Marshal of the Fort Lauderdale parade on March 12th – part of an all day Irish Fest. Amaturo has lived in Fort Lauderdale since 1970. Along with her husband Joseph, she has contributed greatly to the community. In 1989, the couple created the Amaturo Theatre at the Performing Arts Center and the Amaturo Family Foundation, which supports needy children, Catholic activities, and education. Amaturo currently serves on the boards of Saint Thomas University in Miami and Boston College. Parade participants stroll down Las Olas Boulevard along a green line that is painted by the mayor in a ceremony the day before the parade.
The Parade Committee for the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade, on the world’s shortest street, chose a big name for their honoree. In Hot Springs, Arkansas, actor John Corbett will march down the 98-foot-long Bridge Street as grand marshal on St. Patrick’s Day. Corbett is known for his roles on television shows like Sex and the City and Northern Exposure, and in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Corbett’s girlfriend, Bo Derek, served as last year’s grand marshal. The tiny spectacle also features the World’s Largest Leprechaun and draws around 30,000 viewers.
At its heart, Holyoke, Massachusetts is still Ireland Parish, which is what it was known as back in the 1800s when immigrants, mainly from the Irish-speaking area of Dingle, County Kerry, settled here. The parade draws upwards of 350,000 spectators and some 40 marching bands and as many floats take part.
The Grand Marshal of the Holyoke Parade must be a resident of and have Irish ancestry. However a non-resident can be chosen if he or she is a member of the St. Patrick’s Parade Committee. Gerald Healy of West Springfield was chosen as the seventh non-resident grand marshal in the parade’s 60-year history. Healy is no stranger to the town, as he attended Holyoke High School and Community College. He also held several roles on the parade committee. The child of Irish immigrants, Healy served as a Marine and is currently a chairman and professor of economics and management at Westfield State University.
San Francisco: The celebration in this city, which kicks off on Market and Second Street on March 12th, and follows the iconic trolley tracks, is the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade west of the Mississippi River and attracts around a million viewers. This year the United Irish Counties Society picked Mike and Maureen Moriarty as joint grand marshals. Mike, a sports announcer, serves on the Board of the Irish Football and Hurling Youth League with Maureen.
The colorful festivities surrounding the parade will showcase Irish Culture through live performance and entertainment, arts and crafts exhibitor presentations and food and beverage concessions. Children’s activities, cultural competitions and games are also planned.
The Quad Cities Grand Parade kicks off in Rock Island, Illinois and moves across the Mississippi River to Davenport, Iowa, making it the only interstate parade in America. This year ,the Quad Cities St. Patrick Society chose William M. Collins to cross the state lines as Grand Marshal of their 26th parade. Collins, who owned and operated Mac’s Tavern in Davenport for 14 years, beginning in 1990, was a popular choice. He is following in the footsteps of his father, Dr. John Collins, who was Grand Marshal of the seventh Quad Cities parade. This year’s border-breaking parade takes place on March 12th.
“Forever Green” is the theme of Denver, Colorado’s 49th parade, also held on March 12th. To follow this theme, the Denver St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee honored a member of the nonprofit Alpine Rescue Team, which responds to wilderness emergencies. Longstanding team member Roz Brown was chosen as Grand Marshal. Brown is a folk singer who plays the autoharp and has been entertaining folk fans since 1975. He started out volunteering to play his music at hospitals and nursing homes. Brown has released four recorded albums. Close to 250,000 people attend this annual event.
As part of a week-long celebration, the town of New London, Wisconsin changes its name to New Dublin for the duration of the festivities. In addition to the Grand Parade, the Shamrock Club of New Dublin sponsors events such as Hooligan Day, an Irish Céilí, Irish caroling, bands, dancers, stilt walkers, and “Finnegan’s Wake.”
This year’s parade, on March 19th, honors Tony and Lorraine Van Kampen as Grand Marshals. The Van Kampens have been active members of the New London community and own and operate two McDonald’s restaurants in the city. They are also involved with the Old Honor Glory Flight, which transports WWII veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorial sites.
The 30th Alexandria St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Virginia will be led by Grand Marshals Tom and Nancy VanCoverden. Tom is the President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers and has dedicated his life to supporting and strengthening health care centers around the country. His wife of 40 years, Nancy, has always been at Tom’s side and has contributed to the community through volunteering and donating to organizations like a young-adult mentor program and an organization that helps young baseball players enter the minor leagues. Both the VanCoverdens have been big supporters of Ballyshaners, Inc. the main promoters of the parade.
In addition to the grand parade, held on March 5th, Alexandria’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities also include a classic car show and a dog show.
The Seattle parade, the largest and oldest parade in the Northwest, is the high point of an Irish Week celebration that includes an Irish Soda Bread contest, a Mass for Peace between Catholics and Protestants, and an Irish festival. The 39th parade, on March 12th, is led by Grand Marshals Michael D. McKay and his brother John Larkin McKay, both of whom served as United States Attorneys for the Western District of Washington. Mike McKay held the position from 1989 to 1993 and John served from 2001 to 2007. Mike is also a founder of McKay Chadwell law firm. John is a law professor at Seattle University School of Law.
The McKay brothers are very proud of their Irish heritage and have roots in counties Tipperary, Cavan, and Galway. Both brothers have visited Ireland many times.
Marilee Fitzgerald, Director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, was chosen as Washington, D.C.’s Grand Marshal. Fitzgerald fits the 40th parade’s theme of “A Heritage of Education and Community Service.” She oversees 194 schools in 12 countries and seven states that offer education to the dependents of our uniformed service personnel. Fitzgerald also serves as the Principal Deputy to the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Civilian Personnel Policy. This year’s parade in the country’s capital is on March 13th.
Parades Around the World
In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with with parades around the country and a festival lasting four days in Dublin, the nation’s capital. This year’s parade promises to be truly spectacular. In honor of Dublin being named UNESCO City of Literature, the festival parade will bring a specially commissioned short story “Brilliant” by Roddy Doyle to life on the streets, with some of Ireland’s finest performers taking part. Marching bands from across the globe will also take part, in what is billed as the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Boxing champion Katie Taylor, 24, will serve as this year’s grand marshal.
Since 1824, Montreal has been hosting Canada’s oldest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The three-hour event features floats, bands, community organizations and cultural groups. This year’s grand marshal is Father John Walsh, whose roots lie in Killarney and Cork. Father Walsh is an active member of the Irish-Canadian community and is known for his work on News Talk Radio CJAD.
The largest Irish event in Japan is the Tokyo St. Patrick’s Day Parade, organized by the Irish Network Japan. It began in 1992 for the purpose of introducing Irish culture to the Japanese people. With the support of the Irish Ambassador to Japan, James Sharkey, the parade took off and is now entering its twentieth year.
In the Caribbean, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations continue for an entire week on the volcanic island of Montserrat. Montserrat, whose people are a mix of African and Irish, is the only nation in the world other than Ireland that considers St. Patrick’s Day a national holiday. The celebration includes parades, pub crawls, feasts, and festivals.
This year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Sydney, Australia, the “Book of Kells” will serve as the inspiration for the costumes, groups, music and floats within the parade. This annual event is one of the largest in the world, comparable to the parades of New York and Ireland.
This year, the Irish Hungarian Business Cycle organized all of their Hungarian Irish groups for the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Budapest. The theme for the parade is “Green For The Day,” as all are welcomed to come out and celebrate Irish Culture.
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and parades are also held in Greece, Turkey, Dubai, Rome, Germany, New Zealand, Great Britain, and many other countries. The month of March continues to show that St. Patrick and Irish culture have had quite an influence around the world.
UPDATE: In the print edition of Irish America, we listed the Shanghai St. Patrick’s Day Parade as one of the international celebrations. The parade, and the four-day Féile Shanghai festival it was a part of, have since been canceled due to major crackdowns by the government and police force on public gatherings throughout China.
The ban on public gatherings and any media coverage of them began after word began circulating online of a “Jasmine Revolution,” which apparently encouraged people to take “afternoon strolls” as a sign of resistance against the Communist ruling party.
A member of the parade committee issued the following statement to the Irish Times, under the condition of anonymity: “The parade is off. We were told by the Public Security Bureau we could not have a public gathering. We’re bitterly disappointed as we spent two months working on it, but that’s life.”