Ray Kelly dons the parade sash

The man who will be this year's grand marshal told a packed room at his installation last week that he had spent almost all of his adult life on Fifth Avenue every time St. Patrick's Day rolled around.

This year it will be no different in terms of location, but Kelly will have a double task in his most capable hands as he commands the city's police department even as he lead marchers up the avenue in the 249th consecutive parade.

In his acceptance speech, witnessed by family members, including his wife Veronica, five former grand marshals and a large crowd of enthusiastic well wishers, Kelly spoke of former Irish president Mary Robinson's famous candle in the window, a beacon to the Irish emigrant no matter where he or she ended up in the world.

"We're the ones for which that light was shining," said Kelly.

"We too have in inextinguishable love for the home of our ancestors," he said.

Kelly spoke movingly of the shared history, the struggles and triumphs of Irish immigrants, most especially those of the first generations, such as his own parents.

Kelly, whose Irish roots are in counties Roscommon, Longford and Cavan, said that the St. Patrick's Day parade was a celebration of the vibrant future of more than 70 million people around the world who traced their origins to Ireland.

He thanked his wife Veronica, sons James and Gregory and brother Donald, and said he was counting on the NYPD, his aides and all in the room to make this year's parade the best ever.

That room was clearly excited at the prospect of Kelly leading the parade. A number of speakers, including outgoing grand marshal Mike Gibbons, Cardinal Edward Egan and Irish Consul General Niall Burgess, heaped praise on the man who has served two mayors as commissioner and who has presided over a drop in crime that is the envy of the nation.

"I would like to thank Michael J. Gibbons, the outgoing grand marshal, for making the 248th New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade an outstanding success. We especially thank Michael for the wonderful work he did on the parade's behalf as last year's grand marshal and for all the support he has provided our annual parade in the media and public life over the years," said parade chairman, John Dunleavy, before passing on the sash and duties of grand marshal to Kelly.

Former grand marshals on hand to salute Kelly, in addition to Gibbons, were Congressman Peter King, Tommy Gleason, Tommy Smyth, Mary Holt Moore and Barney Ferguson.

Other well known faces in the crowd and on the dais included Tom O'Brien, president of NBC in New York, the city's sanitation commissioner, John Dougherty, Dr. John Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University, Rev. George Reilly vice-president of Villanova University, New York City's Commissioner of Public Records, Brian Andersson, and former congressman Mario Biaggi, who was given a standing ovation.

Parade chairman Dunleavy announced that this year's parade would be dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America who are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. A number of scouts and scout leaders attended the installation ceremony which was kicked off in rousing style by pipers from the NYPD Emerald Society.

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