Seeing green Hoboken brims with Irish pride for St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Mardi Gras may have passed, but the next big celebration is right around the corner – the festivities switch gears from the Crescent City of New Orleans to the Emerald Isle of Ireland as Hoboken gears up for its annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

On March 1, stepping off at 1 p.m., the parade will run along Washington Street starting at 14th Street and finishing at the stand in front of City Hall between First and Newark streets, and boasting more bands, pipers, and marchers than in its previous 20 years.

Among the marchers kicking off the month of March with Irish cheer will be the Hoboken police and fire departments; veterans groups; several schools; Erin Go Bark, a group of dog owners who dress up their canines for the occasion; and the popular Cycling Murrays, a traveling family that performs on unicycles while entertaining the crowd with music and tricks.

In addition, many of the Mile Square’s bars and restaurants will provide entertainment of their own.

Irish England

This year’s parade will honor Richard England, business administrator for the city of Hoboken, as the 2008 Grand Marshal. Among his many local service contributions, England has worked for the city as a councilman and a member of the Board of Education; he’s also a member of the Hoboken Elks Lodge.

The Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee cited his support of the parade since its inception among its reasons for choosing England.

But don’t let his last name fool you; England has plenty of Ireland in him, including Cotters, McGuires, Haleys, and O’Briens. (His surname comes from his great-grandfather, of London).

As Grand Marshal, England hopes “to lead the parade in a manner which would exude the Irish strength and love of life.”

When asked what spirit he feels best encompasses Irish-Americans today, he said, “I think the Irish, in general, have the best ‘people skills’ that I have ever encountered.”

Also among the honorees is Eileen O’Connor Farinola, who volunteers with many charity and community organizations and will be the 2008 Irishwoman of the Year, and former state Sen. Bernard Kenny Jr., who is of Irish descent and will receive a special award as 2008 Man of the Year (instead of Irishman of the year) for his support of Hoboken and Hudson County as well as Irish immigration.

Irish spirit

St. Patrick’s legacy in Ireland is not forgotten, even if most Americans might not be too clear on who he was – though stories of him driving the snakes from Ireland are greatly exaggerated, according to historians.

A Christian missionary in Ireland during the 5th century who is also credited with creating the Celtic cross, St. Patrick is believed to have died on March 17 – and the date has become a feast day, and so we celebrate.

Irish-born Mark Hogan, manager of the Dubliner, who came to the U.S. in 1999, believes the day is being lost to commercialization, and that’s how celebrations differ here compared to back home.

“It’s a great day for the Irish to be out and celebrate their heritage,” Hogan says, continuing that he thinks people still get the idea what the holiday’s all about even if they know nothing about St. Patrick. “It’s the one day of the year when [the bars] are busy from the time the doors open to close. People are happy all day … People celebrate here as much as they do back in Ireland,” Hogan explains, adding, “All the years I’ve been working at the bars, it’s always been good. There’s never been any hassle.”

Also a native of Ireland, Sean Hession, owner of Willie McBride’s and Buskers bars, came to the states 21 years ago, hailing from County Mayo, where St. Patrick is said to have been held prisoner by Irish raiders before becoming a missionary. Hession was last year’s Grand Marshal for Hoboken’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is the first parade in the area and kicks off the season.

“It was very, very exciting, and obviously, it’s a great honor to be named Grand Marshal, makes you feel proud to be Irish – it’s a bit of a bonus,” says Hession.

So how do the American festivities compare to back on the Emerald Isle?

“Very, very similar,” Hession says, pointing out that in Ireland, the parade is on the holiday, however.

Besides taking pride in his culture and being one of seven children in a large Irish family, Hession takes pride in his restaurants and tries to help out the community whenever possible. The popular Irish sports bar will have all the Irish staples for the holiday, including those with corned beef.

What does Hession have to say about this year’s Grand Marshal?

“I’ve known Dick about 12 years,” says Hession. “I know his family, too. He’s a very popular, proper person. He’s a good, honest guy … He’s proud to be Irish. To me, that goes a long way.”

If there’s one message Hession, as an Irishman, wants to send about the holiday, it’s this:

“To me, it’s all about celebrating the fact that you’re Irish, and just having a good, fun, and safe day.”

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