Jersey City didn’t always have a St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Legendary Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, who ruled over Hudson County and beyond until the late 1940s, strongly believed in Americanization, and refused to give into the ethnic pride many residents of Jersey City felt.
The plot to bring a parade to Jersey City was hatched in a local tavern in late 1962 when those who would go on to become the parade’s organizers bemoaned the lack of a St. Patrick’s Parade while other cities like New York had a well-established tradition.
Eventually, organizers managed to lure Patrick J. Kenny back from Ireland to serve as the first grand marshal. Kenny was sent off by the president of Ireland and received in the United States by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The local newspapers called it the grandest celebration the city had ever given itself.
Since then, the parade — which starts at Lincoln Park and makes its way up Kennedy Boulevard to Journal Square — has become a significant tradition, often highlighting movers and shakers in the community.
O’Dea is a well-known political rebel
This year, Freeholder Bill O’Dea will serve as the grand marshal.
“All good things come to those who wait. After 30 years, my friend, Freeholder William O’Dea, finally will get to lead the Jersey City St. Patrick’s Day parade along the green line from Lincoln Park to Journal Square,” said Jersey City Councilman Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal, who said O’Dea has been his mentor. “May the sun shine all day long and many Irish blessing be bestowed to him this journey to become grand marshal was a little long. This year, being 100th year anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin city, will undoubtedly give Bill a lot to reflect upon.”
“I know my late father who I was named after and who instilled in me great pride in my Irish Heritage will be looking down smiling on March 13.” – William O’Dea
Hudson County’s Bill O’Dea has always been seen as a rebel, someone who bucks the system and often wins.
A graduate of St. Peter’s Preparatory in Jersey City, where he won the Silver Medal in Oratory Competition and the Silver Medal in Business Law. He was included in the Who’s Who Among High School Students. O’Dea went on to graduate magna cum laude with a Bachelors of Science degree from St. John’s University. He won Gold Key Awards as a top student in criminal justice and in political science.
Known as a community activist from when he was very young, O’Dea served two consecutive terms on the Jersey City Council, elected first in 1985 and again in 1989.
But his real success came when he was selected to fill the unexpired term of Freeholder Henry “Hank” Gallo in 1997, winning the seat by one vote among county committee members. This defied the political machine then headed by County Executive Robert Janiszewski.
O’Dea won the seat in a special election in 1998 and has retained it since, becoming a political powerhouse on the west side of Jersey City, and has served as executive director of the Jersey City Democratic Organization.
O’Dea is currently deputy executive director of the Elizabeth Development Company, considered the best-administered Enterprise Zone development company in the country.
O’Dea was named to “Who’s Who in International Business” in 2005 and to “Who’s Who in America” in 2006, and recently has been featured in articles in various business publications concerning redevelopment issues.
“It is of course a great honor to be the grand marshal,” O’Dea said, “and I know my late father, who I was named after and who instilled in me great pride in my Irish Heritage, will be looking down smiling on March 13.”
There are other honorees as well
The parade, which celebrates Irish heritage and honors honoring the life and work of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, kicks off at Lincoln Park at 12:30 p.m. on March 13 and continues along Kennedy Blvd. to the reviewing stand at Journal Square across from The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre.
The 2016 Parade is dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising. Sometimes called the Easter Rebellion, the Rising was an armed insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week in 1916. This was mounted by the Irish republicans to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic while the United Kingdom was heavily engaged in World War I.
The parade also honors other people in the community including Irish Police Officer Lt. Robert Kearns; Irish Firefighter Kevin Hennessey; Irishman of the Year Dr. John R. McGee; Irishwoman of the Year Meg Sweeney, Irish EMT Devin McCabe; Irish Educator Kevin Reed; Honorary Irishwoman of the Year Sarah O’Callaghan; Honorary Irishman of the Year Randy Riotto Sr., and Miss Colleen, Shannon Dwyer.
Organizers say that the Jersey City St. Patrick’s Day Parade has become one of the largest parades in the state. Monies raised not only pay for the parade but are used to fund scholarships and charitable endeavors in Jersey City. Donations are tax deductible as we are a 501(c)3 non-profit tax exempt organization.
A portion of a fifty/fifty raffle will be used to continue JCPD Det. Melvin Santiago Scholarships will which be presented to Jersey City students attending Hudson Catholic high school. Santiago, a rookie officer on the force for just six months, was fatally shot while responding to a report of an armed robbery at a drug store in Jersey City in July 2014.
A pre parade Dinner Dance will be held on Friday March 11 at The Casino in the Park where the honorees will be recognized.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.