St. Patrick’s Day Is Everyone’s Holiday
This coming Saturday will bring New Yorkers of all persuasions and ethnicities together along Fifth Avenue to watch and in some cases join in the 246th St. Patrick’s Day parade. Celebrations will, of course, continue long after the parade itself is over, and we hope the spirit that the parade represents will linger long after the celebration ends.
New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parades have been a focal point of the city calendar since 1766, when Irish soldiers in the service of King George III gathered at their parish churches or their organizations’ headquarters, assumed parade formation and marched to the Old St Patrick’s Cathedral at what are now Mott and Prince Streets. There they were greeted by the incumbent archbishop, dignitaries and politicians addressed the crowd, inadvertently starting another longstanding tradition, and the marchers dispersed to seek out some St. Pat’s Day pleasure.
The St. Patrick’s Day parade and its tradition of regarding all who participate or watch as being Irish by adoption and inclusion for at least a little while on March 17 has long been claimed by Manhattan. We do not dispute that borough’s place in the parade’s history, including acceptance by the English nobility and gentry who oversaw the governing of the then colony of beliefs that were other than their own.
We feel it incumbent upon us to point out that the tradition of religious tolerance in what was then the colony of New York has deeper roots— roots that lie in the borough of Queens. More than a century before that first St. Patrick’s Day parade through Lower Manhattan, in 1657, 30 English colonists who lived in the town of Flushing in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam submitted the Flushing Remonstrance, calling for acceptance of all “sons of Adam”, including Catholics, Lutherans and Quakers—even “Jews, Turks and Egyptians”—to Peter Stuyvesant, the then Dutch colony’s governor.
Acceptance of all “sons of Adam” held good even after England forcibly took over the colony seven years later. It is not unreasonable to postulate that the Flushing Remonstrance and the concomitant acceptance of religious traditions, such as the St. Patrick’s Day parade influenced the writers of the United States Constitution. The First Amendment specifically states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”. The right of America’s Irish Catholics to celebrate the holiday venerating their homeland’s patron saint, in consequence, is regarded as a matter of law under the Constitution.
For a nation of immigrants, the St. Patrick’s Day parade carries added weight. Irish expatriates were seldom welcomed with open arms. As late in America’s lifetime as the early 20th century,
Irish immigrants were greeted with “No Irish need apply” caveats in newspaper and storefront placard advertisements of open employment positions. Like other immigrant groups, they persevered and prospered in spite of such blatant discrimination; John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were two Americans of Irish ancestry to hold the ultimate job in the United States, that of president.
It is also worthy of remark that the St. Patrick’s Day parade is one of only a few such events with no cars, floats, buses, trucks or other vehicles allowed. Only people, led by members of the 165th Infantry (originally the Irish 69th Regiment of Fighting Irish fame), step off at 44th Street and march north up Fifth Avenue to 86th Street.
The parade celebrates humans as well as Erin’s patron saint.
On March 17, all New Yorkers, whatever their ethnic background, can consider themselves Irish, if only for a few hours. Whether or not you are one of the spectators lining Fifth Avenue, pause in the course of your day to reflect on and appreciate those first St. Patrick’s Day revelers who bequeathed to all of us the right to honor and celebrate who we are and where we come from. Let us join in appreciating all the gifts that nationalities the world over have brought to our shores.