MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Dr. Siobhán Fitzpatrick probably bleeds emerald green. The longtime Mahopac resident is about as Irish as they come— her fiery red hair and iridescent smile give that away.
So, it comes as no surprise to learn that March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—might be her favorite day of the year. And for as long as she can remember, she and her family have been St. Patrick’s Day Parade volunteers, helping the iconic New York City event come off without a hitch as it moves through the streets of Manhattan.
Fitzpatrick is co-chair of the Line of March Committee for the parade. Her dad, Dr. Patrick Delamere, is the chair.
On Oct. 13, at a dinner and ceremony at Antun’s restaurant in Queens Village, Fitzpatrick received the St. Patrick’s Day Parade NYC Loyalty and Dedication Award from the parade’s board of directors, including Hilary Beirne and chairman Sean Lane, for her and her family’s volunteerism. Her husband, Dr. James Fitzpatrick (Siobhán and James are both chiropractors in Mahopac), and their six children, Cole, 19; Brock, 16; Brontë, 14; Rourke, 12; Breidghe, 9; and Kaeltonn,7, all help out every St. Patrick’s Day.
As members of the Line of March Committee, Fitzpatrick makes sure that the marchers line up correctly, meet dress-code requirements and that no prohibited animals find their way into the parade. Only Irish wolfhounds are permitted. They also keep an eye out for unruly behavior in the crowd and work with NYPD to keep things under control.
“We assist the marchers to organize themselves before they arrive at the reviewing stand and TV cameras,” Fitzpatrick said. “We also distribute programs throughout the length of the march.”
Fitzpatrick’s mother, Kathleen, was born in Ireland; her dad grew up in the Bronx. They moved to Mahopac just before she was born, the second of five children.
“We grew up Irish; mom came from a huge family in Ireland,” she said. “Mom is from a culture of gentlemen-farmers, no drinking. It is a sophisticated version of the Irish. She served tea in pretty cups. She and my grandmother were very proper.”
And you can’t separate this gentle manner of Irish from their faith.
“You can’t have Irish without God,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can’t separate them, and the parade is very much about the faith of the people. They (parade organizers) are very determined to make sure it’s a faithful experience and not just a parade.
“That’s what we come from, this wonderful version of Irish,” she added. “It’s an interesting way for Irish to grow up.”
Fitzpatrick said she has vivid memories of St. Patrick’s Day as a child.
“No school for us on that day,” she laughs. “Dad loved to go to the parade. I remember it forever. We never skipped.”
Her father became chair of the Line of March back in the ’90s and Fitzpatrick and her siblings quickly jumped in and supported him. She’s been the co-chair for the past three years.
Fitzpatrick said not a lot has changed with the parade since she’s been involved, although the 9/11 terrorist attacks did leave their mark.
“After 9/11, it was odd to see such heavy police presence with snipers on the rooftops,” she recalled. “That was a big change.”
But Fitzpatrick says she still gets an “overwhelming sense of pride” at every parade.
“When I hear the bagpipes, I get very emotional,” she said.
She adds that the awards dinner in Queens was a memorable night.
“It was so much fun,” she said. “You get all those Irish people together and it’s hysterical. Their humor is so spot on.”
But Fitzpatrick’s parade work doesn’t end on St. Patrick’s Day. For the past 13 years, she and her friend, Jane Geoghean, have been helping to lead the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, perhaps the most iconic parade in the country. They do it dressed as clowns … on rollerblades.
Geoghean was already part of the clown skaters when she asked Fitzpatrick to join the ranks. Fitzpatrick is a former competitive speed skater and, of course, had other parade experience, so she seemed like a perfect fit.
Many of the clowns attend the Big Apple Circus Clown University to learn the art of clowning before they pull on the rollerblades.
“We gather at ‘clown corner’ on the West Side on Thanksgiving morning before the parade starts,” Fitzpatrick said. “We do fun skits, jump over each other, pass out balloons and make people feel welcome.”
The clowns are divided into several groups, with about 15 clowns in each. Fitzpatrick’s group is called the High Rollers. But, she notes, there are very strict guidelines about being in the parade.
“If you miss one year, you are out,” she said. “We’ve had no new people for eight years.”
The parade clowns wear little makeup to avoid scaring little children.
“The kids really love us and take pictures with us,” she said. “Without a lot of makeup, we are more approachable.”
But it’s a long, exhausting day. Even though the parade route is only about 3 miles long, Fitzpatrick estimates that she and her fellow clowns skate about 20 miles because they move back and forth and often head down side streets to pass out balloons.
As a Thanksgiving Day parade clown for more than a decade, Fitzpatrick said, she often sees the same faces in the crowd year after year. Several years ago, she invited a special needs child and his parents from her church to attend. The child went with her to Clown University for a look behind the scenes and then Fitzpatrick found the family a prime spot from which they could watch the parade.
But as much fun as Fitzpatrick has at the Thanksgiving Day Parade, it’s the St. Patrick’s Day event that will always remain the closest to her heart.
“For our family, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade signifies our rich cultural heritage that we are so proud of,” she said. “We come from an amazing Irish lineage full of faith with a strong emphasis on family and a powerful work ethic. Our family embodies the American dream.”