By Dustin Brown
Three years have gone by since the borough's St. Patrick's Parade first electrified the streets of Woodside, and what began as a historic breakthrough now endures as a Queens tradition.
The puppets, the jigs, the bands and the flags will return Sunday when the fourth annual St. Patrick's Parade and Irish Fair pushes off from 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue at 12:30 p.m., and organizers are expecting their biggest crowd yet. Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said he will march.
“Every year more and more numbers of both the Irish and the Queens communities are participating,” said Brendan Fay, the founder and co-chairman of the parade committee.
The event emerged in 2000 in response to the exclusion of gays and lesbians from the annual Manhattan parade that runs along Fifth Avenue.
But the theme of inclusion that started with gays and lesbians rapidly expanded to embrace the full diversity of Queens, transforming the St. Patrick's Parade into a celebration of all cultures.
It' s a connection Fay said people too often tend to ignore.
“The Irish were among the early arriving immigrants, fleeing en mass famine and starvation and arriving on the shores of America with hopes and dreams,” said Fay, who moved to New York from Drogheda, Ireland in 1984. “Not long after others have followed, other immigrants. There's a lot more shared history between us that is often neglected.”
The parade will feature a special tribute to Phil Berrigan, a 79-year-old priest, World War II veteran and pacifist who died in December. Irish Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, a co-founder of the Peace People Movement in Northern Ireland, nominated Berrigan for a Nobel Peace Prize because of his advocacy for the poor and his commitment to nonviolence.
As the Bush administration moves closer to war with Iraq, the tribute to Berrigan represents a plea for peace, Fay said.
“We sat around and began speaking, how can we as a community participate in dance and celebration while maybe on the other side of the world people like us in Baghdad are living in fear and wondering,” Fay said. “Phil Berrigan just came to mind.”
For the third year in a row the parade will feature performances by De Jimbe, a Dublin-based band that blends traditional Irish music with African drumming rhythms. The band will then visit PS 139 in Rego Park Monday morning as it has done the past two years.
“The teachers and the children just love them because it's not an Irish neighborhood and it's something different for them,” said Siobhan Kyne of Rego Park, the school's parent association president. “They group is really good and they introduce the instruments to the children.”
Other marchers include the Niall O'Leary School of Irish Dance, alumni of St. John's University, and the Lavender and Green Alliance, a city-based Irish lesbian and gay group.
But the size of the parade has grown faster than its revenue, and organizers are still seeking sponsorships to help fund the event.
“It still hasn't fully taken hold yet to be perfectly honest. We still struggle with getting financial backing,” Fay said. “From every band to puppets to the balloons to the Port-a-Johns, it's quite an expensive affair and we still have actually some debts to pay.”
For more information about the parade, to register a parade contingent or to donate, visit www.stpatsforall.com.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.