On the first Sunday in March, the start of St. Patrick’s season, a poet and a rocker were the Grand Marshals of St. Pat’s for All, the inclusive parade through Sunnyside and Woodside, Queens.
Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon and musician Caít O’Riordan grandly marshaled the gathering, begun in 2000, which has returned every year since, with a virtual parade in 2021.
Motorcycles and marching bands, Girl Scouts and Irish dancers, dozens — perhaps hundreds — of costumed dogs, and groups from theaters to Mutual Aid societies gathered for the parade. City, state, and national elected reps met at 43rd and Skillman Avenues to address the crowd before stepping off and marching to 58th St. and Woodside Avenue.
The crowd included people who have marched since the parade’s beginning, and others who have joined the ranks as each generation gave way to the next ones. Longtime SPFA chair Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy welcomed the crowd, and thanked her new co-chair, Miranda J. Stinson. Retired City Councilmember Danny Dromm, one of the parade’s founders, did the honors of welcoming the electeds to the microphone.
Muldoon read his poem, “A Clear Signal,” published in the New York Times on March 17, 1992, when the the Ancient Order of Hibernians refused to allow Irish lesbians and gays to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.
The poem refers to an injustice that’s been mended for nearly a decade but drew gasps from the crowd for its lines:
“This flexibility, that’s come only of late
to us, is so long-fixed in the United States —
whose Supreme Court would never, surely, be swayed
to upset the balance of Roe versus Wade? — “
With as much change, for better and worse, that occurs each year since the previous parade, there’s always another pushback against inclusivity, and this year’s speakers spoke of the ongoing efforts to curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ people, especially drag artists and trans people.
As SPFA got ready to step off, the Staten Island St. Patrick’s Parade had already started, having turned down (again) the Pride Center of Staten Island’s request to march. Several of the speakers in Sunnyside pointed out the difference between the inclusive and exclusive parades.
State Attorney General Letitia James (who refers to herself as “Tish Jameson” in St. Patrick’s season), reminded the crowd there was also a march taking place in Selma, Alabama, commemorating the “Bloody Sunday” in 1965 when the late John Lewis led marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reminded the crowd that change can happen depending on where the state invests, or doesn’t invest, its money.
Congressmember Nydia Velazquez of Brooklyn and Queens, who now represents Sunnyside and Woodside since redistricting, spoke about conservative attacks on the rights of women, immigrants, and trans individuals, declaring: “Shame on them! They forgot that immigrants make America, America!”
“We are so excited to be here at this parade, that gives testament to love and inclusivity,” said Congressmember Grace Meng of Queens. There are some, she said, who spend their Sundays in churches, then bully people the rest of the week, targeting drag shows as dangerous to children, when guns are the top killer of children in the U.S.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams shouted out his agreement; he’d brought his young daughter in her stroller. He held her up to see and hear the speakers, cuddled her, and made sure she had her bottle.
Other Queens officials who spoke included Borough President Donovan (or O’Donovan, as he styles himself on St. Patrick’s Day) Richards, and District Attorney Melinda Katz, who told how her office sent a felon who attacked a trans person to prison, and extradited another assailant from Florida, who is awaiting trial.
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams led a large delegation of her members, and praised the work being done by the Council, which has a majority of women for the first time in its history, “and we’re just getting started.”
The Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club sent several riders to lead the parade, followed by the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes & Drum Band. The FDNY Ceremonial trucks followed; Engine 343 has the names of the 343 service members who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks written on its sides.
The St. Pat’s for All banner was carried by the parade committee, grand marshals, and the Consul-General of Ireland, Helena Nolan, joined by Roderic O’Gorman, the Irish Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
City Council members followed, and their contingent included Queens Councilmembers Shekar Krishnan of Jackson Heights, whose office and home have been targeted by vandals for his support of Drag Story Hours; out lesbian Lynn Schulman of Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill; and Julie Won of Sunnyside, Woodside, Long Island City, Astoria, Dutch Kills, in whose district the parade takes place.
Congressmember Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s contingent marched with drag artists in support of Drag Story Hour.
State representatives marching included newly elected Assemblymember Juan Ardila, whose office is on the parade route, along with Assemblymembers Jessica González-Rojas, Jenifer Rajkumar, Catalina Cruz, and Steven Raga. Senators Jessica Ramos and Senate Majority Whip Michael Gianaris were also marching.
Irish cultural groups included the Shannon Gaels Athletic Association, McManus Irish Dance and Jiggy Tots, Cumann Chaitlin agus Thomais Ui Chleirigh (Gaelic speakers), the Irish Repertory Theater, New York Irish Center (the one in Queens), the Irish Arts Center (the one in Manhattan), Irish Writers and Artists, the Brehon Law Society, Irish for Racial Justice, County Laois, Cork County Pipes & Drums, the Lavender & Green Alliance, the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dane, and the Sunnyside Maspeth Youth Trad Group.
SPFA Music Director Brian Fleming flew in from Ireland to put together the “St. Pat’s for All-Stars” band, which included Kieran McCarthy Fell on flute, Liz Hanley on fiddle and vocals, Craig Titchy on guitar and vocals, Gerry Arias on drums, Dylan James on banjo, and Ray Hegarty on guitar.
More than 50 groups registered for the parade this year.
The Girl Scouts sent a huge contingent, all the better to celebrate the start of Girl Scout Cookie season. Other community-based groups included Sunnyside Community Services, the 34th Avenue Open Street Coalition, the Queensborough Dance Festival, Queens Library Guild, and the always-popular Sunnyside United Dog Society.
Political and activist groups participating included Gays Against Guns, Transportation Alternatives Queens, Veterans for Peace, the New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, Stonewall Democrats, Powhatan Democratic Club, and the CUNY LGBTQI+ Consortium.
Irish eminence Malachy McCourt, 91, rode in his wheelchair with the Irish American Writers and Artists, declaring before the parade that he was marching “because I’m alive.” McCourt said he’s working on his latest project: “the definitive book on death, to let certain people know I will not be in heaven, but rather someplace much warmer.”
Warmer, perhaps, than Sunnyside on a late winter day.