Mary dons sash for 250th parade

By Ray O'Hanlon

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History in the making was sensed by all in the room.

And for those up on their breaking news there was a also a brief moment of fear that history was about to be lost - for ever.

As it does every year, the New York St. Patrick's Day Parade rolled out the green carpet and green sprayed carnations on the evening that the outgoing grand marshal gave way to the new.

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And on Monday evening at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan, 2010 Grand Marshal Ray Kelly helped pass the grand marshal's sash to Mary Higgins Clark, who will lead the 250th consecutive New York St. Patrick's Day Parade up Fifth Avenue this March 17.

"I am so very, very grateful," said the international best selling author moments after accepting the sash from Kelly and parade committee chairman John Dunleavy.

The parade prides itself on longevity and a proud history so it was with some relief that those packing the installation room heard that another piece of New York Irish history, indeed Irish American history, had experienced a close call earlier in the day.

St. James' Church in lower Manhattan had caught fire earlier in the day and had been saved from absolute destruction by quick work from the city's famed fire department.

St. James the Apostle is in present day Chinatown but back in May, 1836 it was at the heart of Irish New York. It was in the now 183-year-old church that the Ancient Order of Hibernians first came into being in the city.

The parade was getting on even then.

It will be going on again just two months from now and will be led by a Fordham University graduate who Fr. Joseph McShane, Fordham's president, described in an address to the room as the "first lady of Irish America here in New York city."

It was an evening in which the religious roots of the parade were well represented. Benediction at the outset was delivered by Fr. George Reilly of Villanova University and at the end by Fr. Kieran Mandato, a U.S. Navy chaplain, who stood in for Archbishop Timothy Dolan who was elsewhere at a wake.

Outgoing grand marshal Ray Kelly spoke of a year replete with memories that he would cherish for ever.

The NYPD Commissioner paid tribute to the parade organizers whose work behind the scenes annually resulted in "one of the most beloved traditions in New York City."

Kelly predicted that the 2011 parade would "be the best ever," an idea embraced by committee chairman Dunleavy who told all in the room that they were "family" and that was what the parade was all about.

Family or no, the parade costs a bundle to put on and the committee has been reminding people of that in recent times. Dunleavy, however, was able to report that the parade was in the black in its 250th year and was now doing "quite well" on the financial front.

Mary Higgins Clark spoke movingly of those Irish immigrants in past years who had carried on the tradition of the parade and said that they would be present in spirit as she took center stage on March 17.

"We will meet again on St. Patrick's Day," she concluded to cheers and loud applause.

It was a good closing line from a woman who has made a career out of such things.