Erin Goes Blah : With No Parade, It's a Sad St. Patrick's Day Indeed


Irish eyes were crying.

"It's a shame, a true shame," said Chris Doyle, born and raised in County Wexford, Ireland.

Doyle was standing over a bottle of Irish whiskey under a canopy of cardboard shamrocks and lamenting the fact that St. Patrick's Day is not being officially celebrated today in Los Angeles.

To be sure, some businessmen have fished out those green neckties they wear once a year. And plenty of green-dyed margaritas will be poured and hoisted around town after work tonight.

But there will be no parades. Not a single St. Patrick's Day resolution will be handed out today at City Hall. No Irish jigs will be danced on the courthouse steps by red-haired, freckled-faced young lasses.

Annual St. Patrick's Day parades in Hollywood and Century City were canceled this year. Los Angeles city officials' traditional, half-century-old March 17 observation took place five days ago--on March 12 .

But what else can you expect from an Establishment whose most vocal Irish supporter is a black Los Angeles city councilman who today is sporting a green button identifying himself as Nate O'Holden?

Doyle, a bartender at the city's oldest Irish restaurant and pub, Tom Bergin'son Fairfax Avenue, could only shake his head.

Organizers of the 8-year-old "O'Hollywood St. Patrick's Day Parade" said they were forced to drop it this year because of a shortage of private and city contributions. A St. Patrick's Day parade that has been staged the past two years in Century City was scrapped when organizers couldn't come up with money to reimburse the city for traffic control.

It's a far cry from 1985, when St. Patrick's Day parades in downtown Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Hollywood occurred simultaneously.

"Isn't it awful?" asked Holden, who for years has championed Irish pride--even though the closest he's ever gotten to Ireland is probably a corned beef sandwich.

"It beats the heck out of me why there's no parade. I could have called around and raised money. We could have gotten the business community to contribute."

Tom Kelly, the County Cork-born publisher of the monthly Irish Times, said his Canoga Park office has been deluged with calls from countrymen asking about this year's celebration. He said the most recent U.S. Census shows that 630,000 Irish-Americans live in Los Angeles County.

"Everybody's disappointed. The other major cities have parades," Kelly said.

Big cities and small cities alike.

Street workers in New York were continuing Tuesday to clear 5th Avenue sidewalks of snow from the killer blizzard in time for the nation's biggest St. Patrick's Day march today.

Closer to Los Angeles, an Irish-themed parade over the weekend drew 74 entries in Ventura. One in Mission Viejo on Saturday boasted 14 grand marshals.

Los Angeles' only "official" St. Patrick's Day recognition came last Friday in City Hall when Panorama City resident Dolores Nolan and Beverly Hills businessman Finbar Hill received proclamations from the City Council. The Ireland-born pair were named Irishwoman and Irishman of the year.

"What a ridiculous thing, doing it on Friday," snorted Art Snyder, an Irish-blooded City Hall lobbyist who was a city councilman from 1967 to 1985. "It's a shameful situation."

Jennifer Kim, deputy chief of protocol for Los Angeles, said the early date was selected because Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds was in town. Reynolds never made it to the council chamber ceremony, however.

"There's no right or wrong about it, but it would have been more significant on St. Patrick's Day," Kim acknowledged.

Nolan and Hill were selected for the honor by the nonprofit Irish Fair Foundation, which stages a local Irish cultural festival each June. Foundation President Terry Anderson is also president of the Greater Los Angeles Irish-American St. Patrick's Day Committee. That group in the past has organized the O'Hollywood parade.

"We plan to bring it back next year," Anderson said Tuesday. "We're laying out a plan for a parade we can be proud of."

Anderson said his group hopes to finance the $70,000 parade without having to hit up the cash-strapped city. "In this day and age you ought not to be taking money that's needed for other things," he said.

But there ought to be some room in the municipal budget for March 17, said those gathered Tuesday at Tom Bergin's pub who trace their roots back to the Auld Sod. Most of them had their Irish up about the St. Patrick's Day parade passing them by.

"Every other ethnic group has one. We deserve it. It's the least our city can do," said Betty Murray, a first-generation Irish-American from the mid-Wilshire area who was celebrating her 79th birthday Tuesday with a drink. She said her mother tried to have her on St. Patrick's Day but matters wouldn't wait.

Next to her was Dublin-born Buckley Norris, now a Century City insurance broker. Norris was nursing a pint of Irish Harp and bemoaning legalities that he said have forced Beverly Hills restaurateur Jimmy Murphy to scrap an annual St. Patrick's Day parade outside his restaurant, Jimmy's.

"Everybody knows St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland," Norris said. "But think what a hero he'd be if he could chase the lawyers out of Beverly Hills."

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