For the 24th year, Alexandria led the metropolitan region in celebrating March as "Irish-American Heritage Month" by kicking off it's St. Patrick's Day festivities with the Grand Marshal's Ball last Friday night. This year it honored four separate venues:- Baltimore, Md.; New York City, N.Y.; County Offaly, Ireland; and Alexandria.
Highlighting this year's ball to officially designate the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade grand marshal, the crowd packing the ballroom of the Alexandria Holiday Inn and Suites were treated to not only fun and fellowship but also a tribute to the nation's Irish heritage by the 2005 Grand Marshal, Martin O'Malley, mayor of the City of Baltimore.
Referring to the words of both the United States national anthem and the Ireland national anthem which initiated the evening, O'Malley said, "There is such a common bond between the words of the two national anthems and our peoples. This particularly struck me coming from the city where our national anthem originated."
He reviewed the history of the siege of Baltimore by the British and how the outcome foiled their attempts to turn back America's revolution. He also noted, "The Irish have a away of going out at the end of the day and making things work. They have a particular way of bringing people together."
IN HIS YOUNGER years, O'Malley was the leader of a rock n' roll band in Pat Troy's first restaurant. But perhaps his own words, delivered during his 2002 commencement speech to Gonzaga High School graduates, of which he is one, best describe him. On that occasion O'Malley said:
"Today I happen to be doing the job, the challenging and honorable job, of Mayor the City of Baltimore. Before this job, I was a father, and a husband, and a lawyer, and a mediocre folk-singer in a rock n'roll Irish band. Before those jobs, I had others ... But after this job and before all those, I was and will be Martin, son of Thomas, son of William, son of Martin — a poor exiled Irish speaking farmer, whose people had endured 700 years of political, religious, and economic oppression. Jobs are not who we are, they are just the things we do while answering a higher calling."
O'Malley thanked those present for the honor of serving as the 2005 grand marshal. "May your city be as great as its people," he said.
Following O'Malley's speech, Pat Troy, parade chairman, and Michael E. Tiddy, president, The Ballyshaners, Inc., under whose aegis the parade is managed, draped O'Malley with the official grand marshal sash. He was also presented the official tie of the New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade by its chairman, John Dunleavey.
"Tonight and tomorrow in Alexandria it's all about being Irish. None of our parades match the St. Patrick's Day Parade," said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille.
"You can't be Irish in Alexandria without a symbol. And we have that symbol in Pat Troy," Euille told the crowd. He was joined at the festivities by Alexandria Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper; City Councilman Andrew Macdonald; former mayor Kerry Donley; former vice mayor William Cleveland; and City Manager James Hartmann.
EUILLE AND HARTMANN presented keys to the city to two representatives from Troy's home Ireland County of Offaly, Dervill Dolan, chairman, County Council, and Niall Sweeney, county manager. "Although we are separated by both land and sea these keys give you an open door to this City," Euille said.
Returning the honor, Dolan presented Euille with an inscribed and polished symbol of their home area, a 6,000-year-old piece of ancient bog. "Wherever the Irish are in all corners of the globe you will find people working to preserve our heritage. I congratulate The Ballyshaners and the people of Alexandria for making that happen here," Dolan said.
In thanking The Ballyshaners for all their work in organizing and staging the parade, as well as the summer Alexandria Irish Festival, Troy recognized two president emeritus of the organization, F.J. Pepper, M.D., and Frank Herbert.
He also paid special tribute to retired Judge Daniel O'Flaherty, a parade past grand marshal. "When we started this 24 years ago we were searching for a name and it was Judge O'Flaherty who came up with The Ballyshaners. And, that was it," Troy said.
BALLYSHANERS MEANS "Old Towners" in Gaelic, the native language of Ireland. "It is a non-profit, non-commercial, non-sectarian, and non-partisan corporation organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes" composed of unpaid volunteers, according to the celebration program. The primary goal is "to preserve Irish heritage."
Troy used the occasion to trumpet one of his favorite causes, the renaming of Waterfront Park to that of Colonel John Fitzgerald Park, after one of Alexandria's founders and aide-de-camp to General George Washington. Arriving here is 1769 from County Wicklow, Ireland, Fitzgerald became mayor of Alexandria and collector of customs for the Port of Alexandria.
As stated in the program, "Public awareness of 'Irish-American Heritage Month' remains obscure, though over 45 million Americans proudly share their Irish ancestry by celebrating St. Patrick's Day ..."