Dorothy Hayden Cudahy dead at 88

By Ray O'Hanlon

She broke new ground even as she famously walked it.

Dorothy Hayden Cudahy, the first ever woman grand marshal of the New York St. Patrick's Day parade, died last weekend, aged 88.

Hayden Cudahy made history in 1989 by leading the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade up Fifth Avenue, thus ending generations of male only grand marshals.

And the present day parade committee was first in line to pay homage to a woman who for decades had been a cornerstone of the Irish American community.

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"She was a great lady who led her parade with great pride and dignity, John Lahey, himself a former grand marshal and vice chairman of the New York St. Patrick's Day Committee said.

"Dorothy paved the way for other women grand marshals, Mary Holt Moore and Maureen O'Hara, Lahey said.

He recalled that Hayden Cudahy's effort to become grand marshal had initially come up against a regulatory wall.

"We had to change the bylaws so as to allow members of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians to stand for grand marshal," he said.

Hayden Cudahy, long familiar in the New York area Irish community as a result of her more than four decades as host of the "Irish Memories" radio show, had thrown her hat into the ring in the mid 1980s only to come up against the male only rule.

She had already secured a first in 1984 by being the first American-born man or woman to be elected president of the Kilkenny Association. Her Irish family roots were in the county, and also Sligo.

With that, and other association memberships and honors, Hayden Cudahy threw herself into her quest for what is the most sought after honor that an Irish American can achieve.

Hayden Cudahy stood for election to the grand marshal's post in 1986, this at a time when there still was a ballot cast by eligible Hibernian members. She was unsuccessful that year and also failed to secure enough votes in each of the succeeding years.

But each time she got closer to achieving a majority of votes and her winning moment came in 1989. She was both aided and encouraged in her quest by the late Irish Echo editor John Thornton, who had campaigned to have parade rules changed in order to accommodate women candidates.

Thornton's wish came true in 1989. Not only was Hayden Cudahy cleared to seek the top honor, but her opponent was also a woman, Mary Holt Moore.

"I presume they didn't have a viable candidate in the males," was Hayden's Cudahy's take on the all female contest.

"She has some steel in her backbone that made her say 'I'm going to keep going,'" was how John Thornton saw Hayden Cudahy long awaited success.

Her win resulted in the name of Dorothy Hayden Cudahy winging its way around the world in news reports. After her election, she was inundated with media requests for interviews. Being herself "the first lady of Irish radio," she had little trouble in dealing with demanding journalists.

Dorothy Hayden was born May 29, 1922 and grew up on the West Side of Manhattan. A graduated of the New York Institute of Technology, she married John J. Cudahy. They had one son, Sean. Hayden Cudahy was predeceased by both her son and husband.

Among her many achievements Hayden Cudahy was a founding member, along with Paul O'Dwyer, of the Irish Institute of New York, and was also the first woman Chief Brehon of the Great Irish Fair in Brooklyn.

Following a Mass of Christian Burial Tuesday, Hayden Cudahy was interred in Calvary Cemetery, Queens.