Thousands celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

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The sky was blue and the streets filled with green as the 71st annual West Orange St. Patrick’s Day parade passed through the township on Sunday.

“I think it went great,” said Parade Committee Chairperson Michael Cunningham. “The rain held out. We got dribbled on a little bit at the end but at 12:15 exactly, the sun came out.”

The march started at West Orange Town Hall and was led down Main Street by this year’s Grand Marshal Patrick E. O’Rourke; Deputy Grand Marshals were Dennis Clearly, Larry Lonergan, and Matthew Mulligan.

“It’s one of the biggest events of my life,” said O Rourke, of being named grand marshal. “I’ve been coming to this parade for 40 years and marching for 12.”
The parade is run by the all-volunteer West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.

“It’s everything Irish,” said O’Rourke, who wore a grand marshal’s emblem that read “Family, Friends and Community West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade.”

A construction industry veteran, O’Rourke is a past president of the Shillelagh Club and an active member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians who has worked to bring Irish organizations together.

Cunningham estimated that about 2,000 or more people marched in the parade while about double that number lined the route to watch.

“The streets were busier than I’ve seen in years,” Cunningham said. “We do all we can with marketing, but if the weather is not cooperating there’s nothing we can do.”

The Parade Committee spends a lot of time over the course of the year working on the parade but the moments just before it actually starts are the best, according to Cunningham, who served as chairperson for the first time this year.

“From 12:10 to 12:15 every year, there’s this tenseness,” Cunningham said. “It’s a really wonderful time of the parade because we know we’re about to go. Every year, that is really the best part.”

Mayor Susan McCartney, who marched in the parade, noted that the sky was clear above the parade route despite reports of rain elsewhere. She also mentioned the diversity of West Orange.

“We had our first Ramadan event last night and today we are happy to be on Main Street for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,” she said.

The day began for some with the traditional St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in West Orange celebrated by Pastor Jose Erlito Ebron.

Due to its appeal, the location of the parade mass is rotated yearly between the parishes of Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of the Valley, Our Lady of the Lake, St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of the Lake, Verona.

Before parade day, an annual investiture ceremony is held to officially swear in the parade’s grand marshal and deputy grand marshals. The piping in and announcing of all the former parade honorees from previous years is one of the highlights of the event.

The newest honorees are presented with their sashes that day and formerly introduced as part of the “parade family.” Many former grand marshals and deputy grand marshals could be seen along the parade route Sunday, wearing the sashes they received at the ceremony in prior years.

The parade line of march included police and fire department pipe and drum units from Essex and Morris counties plus the state police. There were marching bands from West Orange, Barringer, Irvington, Bloomfield, Orange, Eastside and Science Park high schools. The West Orange Hispanic Foundation, the West Orange African Heritage Organization and the Jamaica Organization of New Jersey all had a presence in the line of march.

Erica Odoemene, reigning Miss New Jersey, was among those in the parade.

“I’m from West Orange,” she said. “I’ve marched in this parade before as a cheerleader for PAL (Police Athletic League) and for West Orange High School. I wanted to be here for my hometown parade.”

Cunningham enjoyed a special moment after the event ended.

“We got back to the Shillelagh Club about 5:30 and my whole family was waiting,” Cunningham said. “I hugged my dad and he said ‘your grandfather would be very proud’ and I got very emotional.”

Next year’s parade is scheduled for March 16, stepping off at the usual time of 12:15 p.m.