How It’s New York: The 252nd New York Saint Patrick’s Day Parade marched up Fifth Avenue from 44th to 79th Streets.
How It’s Irish: The parade honors the patron saint of Ireland and the Archdiocese of New York, Patrick, who brought Christianity (and thus literacy) to Ireland.
As I blogged this time last year , I am fortunate to have a rather unusual and special tradition for Saint Patrick’s Day. It involves the annual appearance of my friend, Kevin McKee, a.k.a. “Irish Claus,” his marching in the New York Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, and his returning to the Windy City until the next Paddy’s Day.
Well, this year Irish Claus arrived for the fourteenth time and got a suite at the Waldorf=Astoria as he had last year. And, in that suite we assembled on the morning of March 16th (the 252nd New York parade having been moved up a day because Himself’s feast fell on a Sunday this year.) The group comprised my wife, Daisy and myself, playwright and composer, Mark Butler, Kevin McKee, and, marching in his first New York parade, McKee’s brother, Jimmy.
From the Waldorf windows we could see the snow falling faster and faster. This and the refreshments — the Guinness and Jameson’s and some corned beef sandwiches we’d ordered in — encouraged us to maximize our time in the warmth and comfort of the Waldorf suite. We monitored the parade on TV, trying to keep track of the groups that passed against the Line of March on the laptop. (Next year, I am bringing a hard copy, which is much easier to follow.) The goal was to estimate when to leave to meet up with Mayo, the home county of my grandparents, which was scheduled to step off at 2:30. We had to get across town — and across the Fifth Avenue parade — to meet the group on west 48th Street.
View from the Waldorf
Every year the parade runs well behind schedule and so we thought we could leave by about three, and probably still have to wait a while.
The TV broadcast ended before we left the suite but from what I had seen on the tube, the snow seemed to have kept the number of Fifth Avenue onlookers down this year. So, we decided to try to head directly across town on 49th instead of dipping down under the parade and crossing on 42nd as we had done in previous years. The strategy worked. In a few minutes, we were in a cattle chute waiting for our chance to cross Fifth Avenue.
While we waited we met an older gentleman named Pat, from Mayo. He was planning to march with an AOH group from Northern Westchester. When we made our way to west 48th Street, the marching groups were huddled in various doorways and even inside a parking garage, taking shelter from the snow. This made it harder than usual to find Mayo. After searching east and west along the block, we found some people wearing Mayo sashes. One besashed woman told us Mayo would not be leaving for another hour yet.
We also found our man, Pat, again. He seemed lost and unable to find his group. Kevin McKee and Mark went ahead looking for beer and a bathroom. The rest of us stopped to see if we could help Pat.
When we left Pat, we found no sign of Kevin or Mark. We spotted the Pig and Whistle that used to be called Channel Four though before that was known as the Pig and Whistle. So, we walked in its direction …
We waited outside for a few minutes. I texted Kevin and Mark, asking if they had gone inside the bar. Then Jimmy McKee came up with what seemed a logical suggestion.
— Why don’t we go inside and see if they’re there?
We did so, and it was not nearly the mob scene I had expected. We walked almost the length of the bar and didn’t see them. Then Jimmy had another idea.
— Would you guys like a drink?
This also seemed like a perfectly logical suggestion.
So we sipped on a round of pints, chatting and taking turns going to the bathroom.
Before long we did hear from Mark and Kevin but it was hard to make out what they were saying. We told them we would finish our drinks and head outside. McKee said at one point that Mayo was lining up to march. So this gave us a little more sense of urgency.
However, once we got outside. The street was much emptier than before.
I saw a group ahead of us with a typical county banner making the turn onto Fifth Avenue.
— I think they’re gone, I said. I think they’re gone!
I hoped I was wrong but I turned out to be right.
— We’ll just go with the next County and catch up with them later.
I could see another county on its way east along 48th Street. As I waited for it I half expected to hear one of those annoying mechanical announcements on the subway,
— THE NEXT UP-TOWN COUNT-Y WILL AR-RIVE IN TWO MI-NUTES.
We fell in with the group from Carlow and, other than a few admonitions to straighten our lines, it was grand to march with them.
We made the turn onto Fifth Avenue laughing about the mishap. Once we got into the parade a block or two, I texted the others with our whereabouts. As it was late in the day and the weather was not cooperative, the crowds on Fifth Avenue were smaller than usual.
I apologized about the weather to our first-time marcher, Jimmy.
— I think it adds to it! he said.
He seemed to be truly enjoying his first marching experience despite the snow and the slipups.
We made our way past the Cathedral, waving to the priests and Cardinal and through the 50s. Just before the Plaza hotel, Kevin McKee appeared. He had fallen back from Mayo in order to march with his brother. I kept asking him what had happened to Mark but never got a clear answer.
Once the Park was on our left, the parade moved a little more quickly. There was no more stopping to let traffic across Fifth Avenue.
County Meath Close Behind Us
I texted Mark where to meet us afterwards but got no response. Somewhere around 70th Street, Jimmy McKee said he could not make it the rest of the route and had to leave the parade to find a bathroom. We told him to meet us at the Carlow East (a fitting choice as it turned out) at 85th and Lexington.
We marched until the end of the shortened parade, which used to and should extend to 86th Street. At 79th Street, I called and texted Mark again. Still no answer. We also found the Mayo people, had a few laughs over our mixup, and had our pictures taken with them.
Reunited with Mayo, God help us!
We headed to Carlow East where we hoped Jimmy and Mark would appear. McKee was worried about his brother who did not know New York City very well.
Carlow East was more crowded than it had been the last few years. We squeezed our way in and managed to order a round of drinks. Just as the drinks were being handed around who came walking in there door but Mark and Jimmy?
Apparently, Mark, like Jimmy, had left the parade to seek a restroom. He had also given up on the miserable day and had been about to head home when he bumped — quite literally — into McKee’s brother on Lexington Avenue. So the two of them found their way to us and our group was happily reunited.
Another Saint Patrick’s Day miracle!
We stayed at the Carlow East for a couple of rounds but soon the lack of breathing space got to us. We also had concerts to attend that night. So we got in a cab and headed back to the Waldorf.
After a couple of drinks, Daisy, Mark, and I headed to BB Kings on 42nd Street to see Black ’47. Jimmy and Kevin McKee were off to see the Allman Brothers at the Beacon Theatre.
Black ’47 put on a great show, with many of their familiar hits, “Big Fella,” “James Connolly,” “Rockin’ the Bronx,” “Livin’ in America,” “Forty Shades of Green,” and “Funky Ceili.” The dance floor was full and the crowd was on its feet singing along with lead singer, Larry Kirwan.
When the band came back for an encore, they seemed to have a great time playing some rock n’ roll classics, like Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law.” It was an energetic, fun conclusion to the show!
After the show, I had a chance to talk to Kirwan at the merchandise table. He said the band was on its way to DC to play on the actual Saint Patrick’s Day down there. I told him that seeing Black ’47 after our snowy march up Fifth Avenue was a great way to end our Saint Patrick’s Day celebration — and it was no lie.
At the very end of the night, there was only one of us left to meet McKee for a nightcap, and it was your humble correspondent. We had the final drink of our Paddy’s Day celebration before I went home and Irish Claus went back to his northern clime until next year.