UPDATE: Due to the inclement weather forecast for Saturday, March 12, the Peekskill St. Patrick’s Committee has decided to postpone the parade until Saturday, March 26 at 3:00PM.
It took a global pandemic to stop Peekskill’s 30-year tradition of the annual St. Patrick’s Parade.
So, after a two-year pause, the bagpipes are back, and those proud sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle are ready to march through downtown and stir up the cheering crowds of diverse Peekskill folks again on Saturday, March 12.
Keeping the tradition alive was the challenge given to the committee that organizes the parade each year. Days before the 2020 parade was scheduled, the word came down to cancel as the first wave of covid hit New York.
“I think it’s important to march again this year,” said Sue Sheridan, Chairman of the committee. “We were in our 31st year when covid hit and all the dedicated volunteers who serve on our committee did not allow the parade to falter.
“We stayed the course and now we’re proud to be hosting the 31st Peekskill St Patrick’s Parade in our 33rd year of existence. We’re looking forward to next year and our 32nd parade as well,” she said.
This year’s parade will be very similar to past years with 11 bands and many civic groups marching. A mass will be celebrated at 1:30 p.m. at Assumption Church prior to the parade.
Restoring a sense of normalcy and bringing some joy to downtown Peekskill is a gift the parade brings to residents. After two years of on-again, off-again quarantines and mask-wearing, the chance to get out into (hopefully) the sun and listen to the marching bands is a good way to mark a return to life as we knew it.
The 2002 parade in the March following Sept. 11 brought that same kind of celebration after tragedy. The combat deaths of several members of the Fighting 69th brigade once deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq who marched in Peekskill parades were mourned with a sense of gratitude.
Leading the parade is this year’s Grand Marshal John G. Testa, a lifelong Peekskill resident, retired Peekskill City Schools teacher, former Councilman, former Mayor and former County Legislator.
His aides are John Sharp, long-time business owner of several eateries in the City, including Birdsall House, Gleason’s and Fin and Brew; Ruben Alvarez, owner of Ruben’s Mexican Café for many years; Kerry Kourie, owner of Skinchanted Spa in Peekskill; Patrick MacLennan, born and raised in Peekskill, graduate of Peekskill City Schools, career paramedic/firefighter for the City of Peekskill Fire Department, and member of the Westchester County Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes and Drum; John Shaughnessy, graduate of Lakeland Central Schools, member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians Div. 18 Peekskill, member of the Hudson Valley Irish Fest committee, Lieutenant with the New York State Police and a member of the Police Emerald Society of Westchester Pipes and Drum.
The first idea of a parade started more than 30 years ago with a small group of local Irishmen wanting to bring a taste of Irish music, history and traditions to Peekskill.
Dan Caffrey, a U.S. Marine and New York City fire captain, led the group and marshaled the resources needed to get the parade up and running, assisted by well-known bagpiper Joe Brady Jr. and the support of then-Peekskill police chief Ed Hayes.
Past Grand Marshals are a who’s who of the Peekskill and Cortlandt area. The first parade in 1990 was led by Dr. John McGurty Sr. His son Dr. John McGurty Jr. took the lead nine years later and then in 2015 his wife Kathy McGurty was Grand Marshal as well.
Msgr Francis Ansbro, Joe and Ann Brady, Jack Carey, Joe Seymour, Msgr. Joe Martin, Vinnie Vesce, Jack Murphy, Bill Powers and Jimmy Guinan are some of the famous locals who’ve been honored to lead the march. Jack Murphy, who passed away in 2019, also served for 20 years as chairman of the Parade Committee.
Over the years, the St. Patrick’s celebration has grown to include a special Mass at the Assumption Church, a brunch, a pub tour through downtown Peekskill and an installation dinner for the Grand Marshal and the aides, held for many years at the former Colonial Terrace where former Mayor Vinnie Vesce entertained diners with his caustic wit.
Traditions have formed during 30 years of parades. The legendary “Fighting Irish,” the 69th Regiment of the New York Guard, have provided the color guard for the parade every year but one — the year the 69th was deployed to Iraq.
At the Feb. 22 Peekskill Common Council meeting, the City agreed to waive the $5,000 in fees for public works and police overtime costs. Parade organizers were presented with the charges when their permit application was addressed in January, and requested the fees be waived, as has been customary in the past.
Mayor Vivian McKenzie said the council will discuss how fees for the St. Patrick’s parade will be addressed in the future when the council prepares its 2023 budget. [The Fourth of July and Juneteenth parades are considered city-sponsored events and do not pay for service costs provided by the city.]
What: The Annual St. Patrick’s Parade
When: Saturday, March 12 from 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
Where: The march forms at South Division Street and Crompond Road, then goes to First Street, Union Avenue, South Street and North Division, Main, North James and Brown streets through the downtown, ending at the Reviewing Stand.
Sponsored by the St. Patrick’s Parade Committee
Jim Roberts is a freelance business reporter based in Peekskill.