NUTLEY, NJ - They say the show must go on, but in the middle of a pandemic, this is far from true. The Nutley Irish American Association (NIAA) held their monthly meeting virtually on Nov. 19 and decided for the first time in 43 years to cancel their annual St. Patrick's Day Parade due to COVID-19 concerns. According to the NIAA, it has been the largest and best-attended parade in the township.

The NIAA based their decision on many factors including social distancing and other safety concerns.

NIAA President Tom McEnery said canceling the parade was the toughest decision they had to make. “We were rolling around on it.  We are concerned for the members and the community.” He added, “Be prepared next year for the big parade.”

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McEnery said their focus right now is helping the community. They are giving Nutley Family Service Bureau $500 in gift cards for the holidays. “We are trying to raise funds for NFSB to help the community, to feed the people that have nothing.”

Trustee and parade organizer Deidre Hollywood agreed with McEnery on the community’s safety. “There is no way if we had to enforce social distancing, it would be incredibly hard for us and to do everything in a safe manner,” she said in a separate interview.

Additionally, Hollywood said the committee did not feel comfortable asking the Nutley Board of Commissioners to approve their permit for a parade that over 5,000 people attend. “We don’t want to cancel the parade but it’s really in the best interest of the participants and the town. The last thing we want is someone to get sick from our event. It’s for everybody’s safety, we are going through a second wave,” she said.

The virus affected NIAA personally. “We lost Mary O’Connell our trustee, and another member was on a ventilator for three weeks,” said Hollywood.

According to Hollywood, even if it were safe to gather at this point, they would probably have to cancel, as they did not hold any fundraising events to cover the cost of the parade. The parade’s expenses are about $20,000. Planning and events begin in August.

Among their celebrations and fundraisers, include the annual Shamrock Fest in October, serving Irish American food with entertainment provided by a DJ with performances by local Pipes and Drums bands and the Grand Marshal Dinner. Hollywood noted that these events celebrate the dignitaries throughout the year. “It’s not fair to the dignitaries to give them only 25 percent; less than we normally do,” she said.

Hollywood explained that usually in November the NIAA sends letters to local businesses for the ad journal to sponsor our bands. “Band sponsors are mainly the local bars and restaurants; we didn’t feel comfortable to ask them for a large donation when a lot of local businesses are not doing as well as in the past years. We got to get our businesses back on their feet,” she said.

Earlier this year, the committee chose the 2021 parade dignitaries; whom they decided to keep for the 2022 parade. The dignitaries consist of frontline workers. Grand Marshal — John V. Kelly, MD; Deputy Grand Marshal — Chase Hamilton, a Belleville firefighter and member of the St. Columcille United Gaelic Pipe Band; Member of the Year — Jack Wieners, a retired police and a volunteer firefighter; Parade Queen — Kaitlyn O'Neill of Nutley; and Firefighter of the Year— Brian Salmon, a Belleville firefighter.

Hollywood said they are still having the annual 50/50 raffle for the scholarships and noted the committees focus on helping the people in the community. To purchase raffle tickets contact parade@nutleyirish.com.

The Nutley Irish expect the 2022 St. Patrick's Day Parade to be the biggest yet. Hollywood looked at the positive, “We have plenty of time to plan.” The parade is set for March 5, 2022. Photos are from TAPinto Nutley team coverage of the 2018 and 2019 St. Patrick's Day parades. 

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