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Keep April 9 Open for the New York City Tartan Parade

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Irish EclecticBy Brian McGowan

Everyone knows the greatest parade in the world is New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. While unfortunately a casualty of COVID-19 restrictions for the past two years, New York’s annual homage to Ireland’s patron saint, and that of the Archdiocese of New York as well, will step off in full form on Thursday, Mar. 17.

The two-year hiatus, however, had no effect on the parade’s distinction of being the longest-running parade in the world. In both 2020 and 2021, a token force of dedicated marchers braved winter’s weather in a gallant effort to keep up appearances and continue an annual New York City tradition that has been in place since before our country was born.

There is another parade held just a few weeks later that should bear equal attention, and that is the New York City Tartan Day Parade.  Sanctioned by Congress in 1998, Tartan Day and Tartan Week are designed to honor all things Scottish in the U.S.

The contribution of Scottish-Americans to this country should never be minimized. Artist Alexander Calder, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, businessman and later philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, actor Steve McQueen, explorer George Rogers Clark, naval hero John Paul Jones, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and President Ulysses Grant are just a few who have brought pride to the Saltire, Scotland’s distinctive blue and white flag featuring the diagonal St. Andrew’s Cross.

While the St. Patrick’s Day Parade clearly has a predominantly Irish focus, and the Tartan Parade is steeped in Scottish culture, both traditions are firmly rooted in a common Celtic identity and reflect the often-ignored but inarguable fact that whether one identifies as Irish or Scottish, the underlying character is the same.  We’re all Celts.

I have had the pleasure of marching in both parades – and I will not be goaded into saying which I prefer. But if you are looking for a more composed crowd of onlookers, a shorter parade route, warmer weather and far more bagpipe bands, don’t miss the Tartan Parade, scheduled to stride up Sixth Avenue this year on Saturday, Apr. 9.

Inverness-born actress Karen Gillan is the Tartan Parade’s grand marshal this year, presiding over an event first held in 1999. It has had celebrities such as Sean Connery as grand marshal in 2002, the fourth year for the parade, and the first year my wife and I learned of the event. We have been fans ever since.

The Tartan Parade, which also fell victim to COVID-19 the past two years, has grown far beyond its initial scope. In its inaugural year, the parade comprised two pipe bands and a small but dedicated group of supporters, led by Grand Marshal Cliff Robertson. They marched from the British Consulate to the United Nations, a distance of several blocks.

How things have changed! In more recent years, more than 3,000 marchers have kept pace up Sixth Avenue to the swirl of countless pipe and drum bands, while tens of thousands of spectators have cheered them on.

Saint Patrick’s, by comparison, has held sway in New York since 1762. While it certainly boasts more marchers (150,000) and spectators (2 million), it also has more than its fair share of the unruly. (No further comment necessary.) The grand marshal this year will be James T. Callahan.

But you can’t just “join the crowd” and step up Fifth Avenue on your own. You must be part of one of the many “associated” agencies allowed a place that day in the line of march. The Tartan Parade offers admission to all. Advance registration can be easily accomplished at www.nyctartanweek.org, the parade’s website.

Registration for the 2022 New York City Tartan Parade is now open. Groups and individuals are invited to march for free by visiting the website. That’s right, it’s all free. And in addition, there are a host of other Scottish cultural events throughout the city that week, which is officially dubbed “Tartan Week.” For more details, visit the website.

Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the Bronx and is a second-, third- and fifth-generation Irish-American/Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed several paths to the New World. Reach him at brian.m.mcgowan1952@gmail.com or on Twitter (@Bmcgowan52M). He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon,” about the battle of Waterloo, and “Love, Son John,” about World War II. Both are available at Amazon.com.

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