By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Bay Ridge Saint Patrick’s Parade, one of the neighborhood’s best known traditions, will once again bring shamrocks, Irish step dancers, Irish flags, Kelly green scarves and lots of fun to the community when the big march takes place later this month.
“It’s a great parade. It’s an Irish heritage parade. It’s a religious parade. It’s a community parade,” Frankie Marra, president of the parade committee, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It connects on all levels.”
Forget the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan on March 17. Bay Ridge knows how to throw its own celebration honoring the patron saint of Ireland!
The 21st Annual Bay Ridge St. Patrick Parade will take place on Sunday, March 23, at 1 p.m. The parade route runs along Third Avenue, from the starting point at Marine Avenue to 67th Street.
The day’s festivities will begin with a mass at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Bay Ridge at 9:30 a.m., followed by a pre-parade brunch at Hunter’s Steak and Ale House across the street from the church.
Then, it’s time for the parade!
The parade always takes place on the fourth Sunday of March in order to avoid conflicting with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan, which takes place on St. Patrick’s Day itself, and the Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Parade in Park Slope, which usually takes place on the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day. This year's Brooklyn parade will take place on Sunday, March 16.
Leading the marchers up Third Avenue at the Bay Ridge event will be the 2014 grand marshal, Chief Joseph Fox, commander of the New York Police Department’s Transit Bureau.
The deputy grand marshals who will be marching right behind Chief Fox are Mary Kae Higgins, Brian Cassidy, Denise Benardello-Frederick, Kevin Fay, Catherine Toolan Gearity, Cathy Harkin and Dan Woods.
Fox and his deputies were recently fitted for their parade sashes at a dinner hosted by Marra and the parade committee.
“People who come out to see the parade are going to love it. We have a lot of great things going on,” Marra said. “We have all of the best marching bands coming. The NYPD and the FDNY have their Emerald Society bands. The Clan Eireann Pipe Band is coming. You won’t be able to stand still!”
This year’s parade will have a something new. “We’re having floats. One of the floats will be dedicated to education. We’ll have kids from local Catholic schools riding on the float,” Marra said. “If it works out, and we get more sponsors for the floats, we’ll have more of them in next year’s parade.”
Marra, who is well known in Bay Ridge as a musician who performs at various restaurants and pubs around southern Brooklyn, has been on the parade committee for three years.
Three years ago, when he was asked by the previous parade organizers, Larry Morrish and Jack Malone, to take over their duties because they were stepping down, he answered yes immediately. “I thought it as a no-brainer. It’s one of the best parades in the city and I wanted to be a part of it,” he said.
The parade began as a conversation among a group of Irish-American friends in Bay Ridge in the early 1990s.
“We were talking about how Bay Ridge really deserved to have its own parade,” state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn), who was one of the original organizers, told the Eagle. At the time, Golden was the owner of the Bay Ridge Manor Catering Hall and was a leader of the Fifth Avenue Board of Trade, a group representing merchants on the avenue.
“We had a tremendous number of Irish people living in Bay Ridge and we thought it would be great to give them a parade right here in their own community. There were other parades, of course; the big one in New York and the one in Park Slope, both of which do a great job. But we thought there was room for one more,” Golden said.
Golden worked with Al O’Hagan, an organizer of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Manhattan, as well as Bay Ridge civic and business leaders like Mike Long, Larry Morrish and Jack Malone to get their idea off the ground.
“It was a small group of friends,” Morrish told the Eagle. “We used to hang out at the Leif,” he said referring to a bar on Fifth Avenue. Kathy Reilly, whose family owned the Leif, was an early supporter of the parade, according to Morrish.
“Jack was the owner of Peggy O’Neill’s (a popular Fifth Avenue restaurant) and he got all of the restaurant owners to back us,” Morrish said.
Help was coming from all directions. The Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), the Irish-Catholic fraternal group, offered a helping hand. “We got a lot of help from the AOH and the members of the Fifth Avenue Board of Trade getting the parade together,” Golden said.
“We wanted to make it a community-religious-business parade,” Morrish said. “We were all Catholics, so it was important to us to honor the Catholic tradition. We wanted all of the community groups and schools to march to show the strength of the Bay Ridge community. And we wanted the business leaders to be in it. Bay Ridge has a very strong business community.”
The first grand marshal of the first Bay Ridge St. Patrick’s Parade was Edward Smith, who was president of the New York City Fire Officers Association.
“It was pouring rain that day,” Golden recalled. “We all got soaked marching in the parade. But we loved it.”
For many years, the parade took place on Fifth Avenue, starting in front of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church on 95th Street and ending at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on 60th Street, where a post-parade reception took place. During the Bloomberg Administration, however parades and street fairs were shortened. After that, the parade began at St. Patrick’s but ended at 67th Street.
Last year, the parade was moved from Fifth Avenue to Third Avenue, where it has been welcomed with open arms by the Merchants of Third Avenue, the group representing store owners on the avenue.
“Third Avenue has been great to us. We’re getting support, funding,” Marra said.
The parade committee is expanding its mission, according to Marra. “Next year, we’re establishing a scholarship fund. The parade is not a one day a year event anymore. We’re going to celebrate the kids of this community.”