The Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is a beloved annual event that takes place every March in Huntington. Yet the ongoing coronavirus pandemic made a traditional event an impossibility for 2021, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians made the agonizing decision to cancel. In response to this, parade organizers have decided to host a virtual parade, billed as a direct result of Irish pride and yankee ingenuity.
Each year the parade serves as more than an enjoyable day on the town, it is also an important time for fundraising to fund the numerous scholarship programs and stocking of local food pantries that the Order of the Hibernians — which has organized the parade for 87 years — host every year with no government funding. In other words, every program the organization offers is funded by donations.
One of the key organizers is working actor Leer Leary, the composer of the P.C. Richard & Son “Whistle,” who noted that selling ads in the Parade Journal is the main way to raise funds. The online event is a way to continue the tradition of the parade and raise money to help people in the coming year which is likely to be gloomy, bleak, and financially difficult for many. The online event will feature a showcase of the organizers and sponsors as well as the Hibernians explaining who they are and what they do replete with bagpipes, history, and fun.
Leer Leary will serve as the MC, and he recently discussed the event with the Press.
What is your connection to Huntington and how did you get involved with the Huntington Hibernians? There is a long standing inside joke amongst Irishmen that you are either Shanty-Irish or Lace Curtain Irish … it’s the classic “Posh vs. Commoner” status stratus. It does not exist in America in the 21st Century. However, old timers like me like to kid others. When I was approached by Regis O’Neil to join, my first question was “Oh my, have they lowered the standards?” It was such an honor, I jumped at the opportunity eventually being sponsored by newly elected President John Broderick. So many of us in the United States are from multicultural backgrounds and sometimes one whole side of the family might be overlooked. In my family, with a very strong German mother, we were exposed to the language, the food and customs … I even have Lederhosen. Becoming a Hibernian allowed me to be immersed in what 47 percent of my DNA tells me what I am (thanks, 23 & Me) instead of the 43 percent Deutsch. The story of the Irish is inspiring to anyone who learns it — the challenges, the victories, the songs, the dance, the stories and most importantly: the laughs!
What are some of the most important programs that the organization hosts yearly? We award scholarships to young people going off to university as well as add support to five SEPTA programs at different high schools in our town. My personal favorite is the ongoing food drives throughout the year to keep local food pantries well-stocked. The best feeling in the world is being able to provide the town with over 250 full Thanksgiving meals: whole turkey, potatoes, vegetables, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls and even pumpkin pie! Some we hand deliver to families that have written to their local church. As we hand over the food, laughter and tears abound on the front porches of those homes — classic Irish fun!
How did the pandemic impact your community service efforts in 2020? Interaction of any sort was virtually eliminated. That goes for fundraising as well as the community being able to contribute to us as we’d set up donation stations outside local markets. We had to look elsewhere.
How did you get the idea to create a virtual parade for 2021? As things closed down because of the pandemic, two things were occurring at the same time: the Dominican Sisters and Northwell Health were holding online fundraisers in lieu of their normal end of year dinners. We were of course interested in our Grand Marshal’s company and I was the host of the Homecoming Farm offerings. When it came down to the crushing decision of canceling our parade, the question on everyone’s mind was “What do we do now?” The success of the two events above made us think we might have an answer.
Who is going to be featured in this virtual parade and how long will it run for? We will have bagpipes of course and a smattering of “who we are and what we do” as Hibernians. Interwoven will be some raffles, recipes and fun with a dash of Irish history. The “parade” will be marching on YouTube for at least the length of National Irish History Month (March).
Is this event live, recorded, or a mix of both? All pre-recorded.
You’re an actor, so how does this influence your MC abilities? I will never forget learning that the biggest fear amongst humans is speaking in public. I have never felt nervous nor butterflies. Yes, I know it’s a blessing. It is this “gift of gab” (what some may call Blarney) that makes it very easy for me to stand in front of a group and inform/entertain. As long as I am prepared with a proper fact sheet or script and a wee bit of rehearsal everything should be fine.
What is the best thing about organizing the parade? Not that long ago the sight of a bunch of Irishmen walking down Main Street would strike fear in the hearts of shopkeepers and community leaders! The parade to me is a classic demonstration of “You’ve come a long way baby!” Not many folks know that newspaper employment ads in New York City used to include the phrase “no Irish need apply.” Catholic churches were burned, priests hauled into the streets and beaten. That’s why the Hibernians were formed in America but now we’ve directed that spirit of friendship, unity and Christian charity to everyone in town. The parade brings everyone together. Anyone who is Irish and anyone who wishes they were (which is everyone else!). I walk down that street and think of my father saying “wow, they let us in the front door.”
How would you like to see the Huntington Hibernians expand their programming in the future? I would like us to go into schools during Irish History Month and share a program on Immigration … travels and travails and dot it with the vibrant Irish literature and songs/dance.
Do you think the next live parade — 2022 — will be an especially big party? Monumental! You’ll be able to see it from space.