St. Pat’s for All, the inclusive Queens parade, returned to the streets of Sunnyside and Woodside in person on March 6 for the first time since 2020.
Sunday morning was rainy and damp, but the rain stopped, the sun came out, and the streets of Sunnyside and Woodside came alive. Participants and attendees, many draped in Irish accessories, cheered and clapped with Irish and Pride flags.
That’s how St. Pat’s for All returned, as folks missed and honored friends and supporters who didn’t make it through the pandemic. They were joined by long-time marchers as well as new participants in an event that gave release to two years of postponed joy.
The parade began with addresses from the organizers and local elected officials. This year’s grand marshals were the family of Tarlach MacNiallis, who emigrated from Northern Ireland to make New York City his home. As an activist and organizer, MacNiallis was an advocate for the disabled, and was with the parade from its beginnings, when LGBTQ people who formed their own group because they were tired of being arrested for wanting to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.
MacNiallis’s husband, Juan Nepomuceno, and two of his brothers, Brendan and Tony Nellis, and their sister, Patricia, brought a large photo of their brother standing in front of the Irish flag. They spoke of his courage and dedication, bringing many in the crowd to tears.
“We were both surprised and humbled to receive this honor,” Tony Nellis told the crowd, adding, “A man lives for as long as we carry him with us…his legacy will live on, as long as we do. And Tarlach’s legacy was to create a safe and welcoming place. St. Pat’s for all was his spiritual home.”
Other politicians ascended to the flatbed truck for remarks, ushered on and off by former Councilmember Daniel Dromm — one of the founders of the parade. The affection for Dromm was palpable, as speaker after speaker referred to him as a “trailblazer,” “our forever Council Member,” and the “Queen of Queens.”
The last two years have seen elections (and resignations) changing the faces of elected officials, and for the first time in at least a decade, New York City’s Mayor did not attend or send a representative.
Helena Nolan, the newest consul-general of Ireland, told the crowd, “I don’t need an umbrella, I’m Irish!” She said she was “thrilled and honored” to join the parade she’d “heard about for many years in Ireland.”
Governor Kathy Hochul sent Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams led a turnout of councilmembers that was the largest ever to march in the parade, including Julie Won, who “inherited” the Sunnyside/Woodside district from former member Jimmy Van Bramer (who also marched, in his latest role as an executive team member of the Girl Scouts of Greater New York).
Adams said the current council, which now has a majority of women members, also has “more members of every color, flavor, and gender, including LGBTQ+ members” than ever. “We ARE Queens!” she proclaimed.
New York’s Congressional delegation was represented by Senator Chuck Schumer and included Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Grace Meng.
“We remember those who were lost, and also think and pray for those who took care of them and those who grieve to this day,” Schumer said.
New York State Attorney General Leticia James drew some of the loudest cheers of the day and laughed at the annual joke that on St. Patrick’s Day, her name is “Tish Jameson.”
“Here in Queens, we love everyone,” she said. “And I will use this love as a sword and a shield to protect LGBTQ+ people, especially in states where they are under threat and at risk.”
Queens Borough president Donovan Richards and District Attorney Melinda Katz also brought large delegations to march. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and City Comptroller Brad Lander returned as well, and the New York State Senate and Assembly were represented by State Senators Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos, as well as Assemblymembers Catalina Cruz, David Weprin, and Jessica González-Rojas.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also led a delegation from his office. Ceyenne Doroshow, founder of GLITS (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society), marched in Williams’s group.
The Queens County Young Democrats were followed by the Powhatan Democrats, the Stonewall Democrats, and the Kiwanis Club.
They found a joyous welcome. Parade-goers came to Skillman Avenue wearing green feather boas, shamrock deely boppers, face paint, green glitter derbies, tutus, kilts, green coats, buttons, and scarves. They carried balloons and vuvuzeulas.
They leaned out the windows of their homes, held up their children and their dogs, danced, and clapped. There were empty storefronts along the route, places that didn’t survive the pandemic.
One sight that many hoped had gone away during the pandemic had not: The same group of bigots known for holding homophobic signs was in their usual place, accusing all and sundry of “blaspheming” with a “sacrilegious” parade.
The parade stepped off not much later than it was scheduled to, led by a color guard from the New York City Police Department, then the New York City Fire Department Emerald Society Pipes and Drums.
The Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) and FireFLAG, the FDNY’s LGBTQ+ group, also marched.
Representing Transport Workers Union 100 was a horse and carriage (the drivers are members of the union).
AHRC New York, the organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and where Tarlach MacNiallis worked for many years, came next, followed by Disability Pride NYC and Conradh Na Gaeilge, the Gaelic-speaking league.
The Shannon Gaels, the Irish sports group, brought along dozens of children in their athletic kit, many carrying hurling sticks and soccer balls.
The first marching band was Fogo Azul NYC, the group of women, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming drummers who turned the beat around to the crowd’s whoops and cheers.
Gays against Guns came next, followed by Girl Scout Troop 4522. Scouts BSA (formerly the Boy Scouts) also marched. Scouts BSA now welcomes girls, and the troops of Cubs and Scouts — Queens Pack 90 and Troops 70 and 390 — featured both boys and girls.
The McManus School of Irish Dance brought its “Jiggy Tots” and “Celtic Cardio” to the street. They danced to the music of longtime participants, the County Cork Pipes & Drums.
Other Irish organizations representing and marching included County Laois Association, the Irish Repertory Theater, and the Irish American Writers & Artists.
The Queens County Bar Association fell in behind them, followed by a small truck with the members of the Sunnyside-Maspeth Youth Traditional Music group playing their hearts out.
Irish-American writer/story teller/activist Malachy McCourt motored down the parade route in his wheelchair. When McCourt, who turns 91 this year, was asked what he liked about the parade, he said, “I’m still alive!”
The New York Irish Center (which is in Long Island City) marched near the Irish Arts Center (which is in Manhattan), followed by the Veterans for Peace, the Queens Council on the Arts, the Brehon Law Society, and the United Federation of Teachers.
The Irish for Racial Justice hoisted a banner proclaiming “Black Lives Matter” as well as “Solidarity with refugees and immigrants.”
The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Marching Band burst out with “Don’t Stop Believin’” as the parade slowed a bit, heading up the hill towards 49th Street.
Dignity NY, an organization supporting LGBTQ Catholics, was followed by the City University of New York LGBTQIA+ Consortium and the AIDS Center for Queens County.
The Lavender & Green Alliance was led by Brendan Fay, who founded St. Pat’s for All but stepped down from his role as co-chair this year. Lavender & Green will also march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue.
The Hungry March band, a brass band, cranked it up.
The Woodside-Sunnyside Runners jogged along in front of the Marching Cobras Drum Corps.
Children from PS11, The Kathryn Phelan School marched with parents and teachers, followed by Woodside on the Move, along with Mariachi Juvenil, a strolling Mariachi band.
Making their St. Pat’s for All debuts were the Western Queens Community Land Trust and the Sunnyside and Woodside Mutual Aid Society, along with the Gardeners and Composters of Western Queens.
The Sunnyside United Dog Society, always favorited by the crowd, barked its way down the avenue, with many of their dogs in costume.
Brian Fleming, the renowned Irish musician who comes to Queens from Ireland each year to coordinate the parade’s music, led the St. Pat’s for All-Stars band on the flatbed truck that signals the end of the parade (and the start of the pub crawl).
This year’s band included Liz Hanley, Dylan James, Jerry Arias, and Colin and Róisín.
Afterward, in Irish bars like Saints & Sinners, marchers gathered for their first in-person SPFA afterparty in two years.
“It was joyous!” Parade chair Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy declared. “I was so relieved that so many came to be with all their friends…there were so many people on the sidewalks, and they were dancing and smiling.”
Editor’s Note: The original version of this article stated that gay leaders are not allowed in the Scouts. Scouts BSA removed the general ban on LGBTQ leaders in 2015 and local units are allowed to select leaders in accordance with the beliefs of the organizations to which they are chartered. Pack 90 and Troop 70 are chartered with organizations (Growing Up Green Charter School and Trinity Lutheran Church) with anti-racist, anti-bias, and inclusive practices.