The St. Patrick’s Day Parade marched on in Manhattan early Wednesday, a shell of its former self amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — with few able to observe it.
Normally an event held midday and attracting millions of cheery, green-clad spectators, this year’s march was reduced to a handful of dignitaries, honorees and bagpipers. It also took place at the crack of dawn, while most New Yorkers were still slumbering in their beds.
It was not a scheduling error; the festivities were held early, its participants restricted, to keep the parade from becoming a superspreader event amid the pandemic.
The pre-dawn march was incorporated into a larger, virtual St. Patrick’s Day Parade held in New York to observe the Feast of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and celebrate Irish culture in America.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was among the dignitaries in the subdued march. Hours later, at his daily press briefing, he spoke of the parade’s incredible history in America — pre-dating the founding of the United States itself — and the importance of carrying its tradition forward even amid the pandemic.
“It’s an amazing tradition and it’s a tradition that’s been in so many ways stressed and challenged by the pandemic and yet it had survived,” de Blasio said. “Very, very modestly last year and this year a little bit better and bigger. People could feel that sense of keeping tradition alive, keeping the history alive.”
While saluting all Irish Americans across New York and America this St. Patrick’s Day, de Blasio dedicated this year’s celebration in the city to Malachy McCourt, the great Irish poet and humorist. He was unable to participate in the festivities today due to injury, the mayor noted.
“Malachy McCourt is someone if you know him, if you have heard him on the radio, if you’ve met him and heard his energy, his brilliance his wit, you do not forget it. He has an amazing story, born in Brooklyn but raised in Ireland,” said de Blasio. “Someone who captured so much of the Irish American experience but someone who believed in a society that included everyone and respected everyone.”
Along with members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, de Blasio also participated in the annual Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, celebrated by Timothy Cardinal Dolan.
“Where better to be if you can’t be in Dublin than in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue?” Dolan said in his opening remarks. He preached before a socially-distanced congregation that included members of the Fire Department, Police Department and the Fighting 69th — all first responders whom the parade organizers paid tribute in a special way in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
“We got a good crowd here, not jammed as usual, but it sure beats last year,” Dolan added. Last year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, as COVID-19 began ramping up in New York, was completely cancelled — save for a feast day Mass that Dolan and a handful of clergy celebrated.
Joining de Blasio and the first responders at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Mass were Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, retired NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan, Ireland Consul General to New York Ciarán Madden, and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul — who’s name has often been in the news of late because of the controversies surrounding embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo.
“And if you want to light some candles after Mass, we’d understand, alright?” Dolan joked to Hochul during his opening remarks, drawing laughter and applause. “Because our prayers are with you with [your] responsibilities.”
Hochul would step in as governor were Cuomo to resign or be removed from office.