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Paddy Wagon gets a chilly reception at Quincy parade

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jim Smith

QUINCY, Mass. — Quincy’s 47th annual Christmas parade, the largest of the season on the East Coast, went off Sunday without disruption and with little controversy, unlike last year when Irish American activists publicly denounced the inclusion of an antique paddy wagon in the line of march.

"Things went very smoothly, and there were no incidents along the parade route," parade chairman George White said Monday. "There were about 200,000 spectators, and we’re very pleased with how things went."

White had unsuccessfully attempted to work up a compromise last year between the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Dan Winters, owner of the restored 1912 Model T Ford. "People on both sides of the issue had strong feelings, and we just couldn’t resolve it to everyone’s satisfaction," White said.

Jack Meehan, national treasurer of the AOH, said Monday that his organization has no objection to the antique vehicle being in the parade. "But what we object to strongly is the offensive terminology ("paddy wagon") on the side of the vehicle," he said.

Meehan said that the term reinforces negative stereotypes about Irish people as being disorderly and drunken miscreants.

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"Italians and blacks wouldn’t put up with racial slurs and a display like this– why should the Irish?" Meehan said.

Last year, an unidentified man holding an Irish flag in his outstretched hands stood in front of the wagon, briefly disrupting the procession before Quincy police quickly persuaded him to move off to the side.

Although there were no such incidents this year, many along the 2.8-mile course on Hancock Street were obviously less than pleased to see the wagon again.

Kevin Mullen of Braintree, who was at the parade with his wife and two young daughters, jeered loudly at the vehicle as it passed, while others appeared to mutter under their breaths about the controversial wagon, as if it were an unwelcome guest at an otherwise festive occasion.

"This is a Christmas parade," Mullen said. "A paddy wagon just doesn’t belong here, especially when they know by now a lot of us don’t like what it represents."

Although unhappy that the paddy wagon was once again permitted in the parade, Meehan said that he has made some headway in enlightening members of the parade committee and the general public about the historical origins of the term and the nature of the offense taken. "People are becoming more aware that such terminology can be very, very offensive to a lot of Irish people," he said. "And it’s time for all that nonsense to come to an end."

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