Novelist Mary Higgins Clark to lead 250th march

By Ray O'Hanlon

The annual guessing game is over. Best selling author Mary Higgins Clark is the grand marshal of the 2011 New York St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Higgins Clark was introduced by parade organizers Tuesday at a reception held at the Irish consulate in Manhattan.

In a statement, the parade committee said that it was pleased to announce that the world renowned writer and novelist would lead the historic 250th parade.

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Higgins Clark is only the fourth woman ever to head the annual march up Fifth Avenue, the previous three being Dorothy Hayden Cudahy, Mary Holt Moore and Maureen O'Hara.

"Mary Higgins Clark was born and raised in The Bronx. She traces her Irish ancestry to Frenchpark in County Roscommon and to the counties Sligo and Mayo.

"During her career she has written twenty-nine novels, many short stories, movie scripts and co-authored five additional novels with her daughter. Ms. Clark is active in Catholic affairs and has received twenty-one honorary doctorates and numerous honors from many organizations across the world recognizing her life long endeavors," parade committee chairman John Dunleavy said.

"We are truly delighted Mary Higgins Clark has been unanimously selected as the 2011 grand marshal. She is an outstanding Irish American who has devoted a huge amount of her energy and charisma to building enduring ties between Irish America and the rest of the world. We know that her selection will be a widely popular one," Dunleavy said.

The selection of Higgins Clark was acknowledged in a letter read out at the packed reception from President Mary McAleese.

Sending her "warmest congratulations," McAleese wrote in part: "On a day when New York celebrates Irish culture and tradition, it is very appropriate that its choice of Grand Marshal embodies the qualities of imagination and creativity for which Ireland and Irish America are justly renowned.

"Your wonderful gift of storytelling, which is widely admired by your devoted readers, is eloquent testimony of the artistic influence of your Irish heritage and the strong bond you have sustained with the land of your ancestors," McAleese wrote.

Higgins Clark expressed her delight when called to the podium to loud applause and bagpipes by chairman Dunleavy.

"A hundred thousand thanks to you," she said.

Paying tribute to her Irish immigrant forebears, Higgins Clark said she never felt less than fully Irish.

"I have shamrocks in my DNA," she said to laughter and applause.

Higgins Clark was lauded by Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny as well as other parade committee leaders, secretary Hilary Beirne, and vice chairman, Dr. John Lahey who said that the committee had many events in the planning stages including a gala dinner at Pier 60 on March 15 and the publication of an illustrated book on the history of the parade.

"The committee, according to Beirne, was planning a year long celebration of Irish Faith, Heritage and Culture. He said that the 250th parade would be dedicated to the Irish people and to the emigrant Irish.

Chairman Dunleavy also launched an appeal for community and corporate help in funding the massive event which, he said, cost $800,000 to organize and run.

Parade observers had long tipped a woman to head the 250th parade and President McAleese herself was in the running until she pealed scheduling conflicts in her final year in office.