EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this article was published, the parade has been postponed due to the recent storm and will be held on Sunday, March 18, at 12:15 p.m.
WEST ORANGE, NJ – Lisa Bogart speaks with pride about the generations of her family who helped found and sustain the West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the past 67 years.
Her grandfather, Joseph Brennan, worked with the Irish-American Society of the Oranges to launch the parade in the early 1950s; and her uncle, West Orange attorney Joseph Brennan worked with Pat Melvin in 1975 to incorporate the parade and write its by-laws. Both men served as grand marshals, and her mother, Mary Patricia Bogart, served as a deputy grand marshal.
Days before the 67th annual parade, which has been postponed until next Sunday, March 18, Bogart said it was wonderful to see the younger generation picking up the mantle to make the parade bigger and better every year. She said that interest in the parade was waning a bit years ago, but it has now come back stronger than ever.
“Younger people are interested in their heritage,” she said. “They are not ashamed of being Irish—they are very proud of it. Many of them are learning how to play the bagpipes and drums, do step dancing, and are learning the Irish language.”
According to Bogart, a great deal of the parade’s appeal is that “it is done in such a dignified manner.”
“Everyone on the parade committee is always nicely dressed and have their top hats on…It’s a very family oriented event, and participants give back to the community,” said Bogart. “There are parties after the parade, where money is raised for scholarships and good causes.”
Speaking from his West Orange home, Bogart’s uncle Joseph Brennan said the top hat tradition was revived on the parade’s 50th anniversary and has continued ever since.
He said it has been wonderful to see the growth of the parade, which started in the 1950s with people walking on the sidewalk from Our Lady of Lourdes RC Church on Eagle Rock Avenue to the West Orange Community House on Main Street.
According to Brennan, in those days after the smaller West Orange march, the group would go down to the larger St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Newark, which is now far smaller than the one in West Orange.
“It’s become more than an Irish parade,” said Brennan. “It’s become a day of community pride. It’s great to see the children marching with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the Mountain Top League and West Orange P.A.L. The parade gives these groups visibility in the community, and encourages others to join in.”
Both Bogart and Brennan acknowledged the O’Hara family and the Frank O’Hara Association for all they have done to help found and support the parade. According to Bogart, Maureen O’Hara is still very involved with the parade.
Brennan said that one of the most amusing stories came about when the late Governor Brendan Byrne joked that one of the major reasons he wanted to attend the parade when he was 90 years old was to meet the West Orange version of Maureen O’Hara, who was one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses in the 1940s and 50s. There is no relationship between the two women.
According to Bogart, other groups that have played an important role in keeping both the parade and the local Irish-American community strong over the years include the Shillelagh Club in West Orange, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Thomas Giblin Society.
Brennan and Bogart also thanked the Township of West Orange for its support of the parade over the years.
“We get tremendous cooperation from the township in putting this parade together,” said Brennan. “I especially want to thank Mayor Parisi, the Department of Public Works, the police and fire departments for all that they do for us.”
He said their help is especially appreciated when weather conditions are an issue.
“We’ve only had to postpone the parade twice: once for a major snowfall on the day of the parade, and once when there was a Nor’easter two days before it,” said Brennan, who added that he hopes the streets will be cleared from this year’s Nor’easter in time for Sunday’s festivities.
Bogart said she also hopes this year’s parade goes off without a hitch even with the challenging weather. She added that it’s exciting to see her sibling’s children so supportive of the parade.
“They feel so strongly about their Irish roots, and have such pride in their Irish heritage,” said Bogart, who is looking forward to enjoying the parade with four generations of her family.