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First parade draws big crowd

51,000 turn out for Wantagh's inaugural St. Patrick’s event


To view more photos from the event, click here

Tens of thousands of Wantagh residents and visitors lined Wantagh Avenue on a bright, unseasonably warm Sunday to watch as vintage vehicles and marchers as varied as bagpipers, Girl Scouts, volunteer ambulance workers, therapy dogs and Irish dancers made their way down the street in the Wantagh Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“It exceeded our wildest dreams,” said chamber President Cathy McGrory Powell, who thanked her Irish ancestors for the sunny day. “The happy faces, the smiles made it all worthwhile.” According to Powell, more than 51,000 spectators — nearly three times the population of the hamlet — gathered to enjoy the sunshine and shout encouragement as the participants paraded by. “We had about 50 units marching,” she said. “They were all so diverse. We had motorcyclists, we had dogs and horses, we had first responders — who were a big hit — and local businesses.” Powell said she could hear shouts of thanks from the crowd as she passed with parade Grand Marshal John Murray Jr., owner of Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall in Wantagh.

When she was elected to head the chamber in February, Powell said she had long hoped for a parade in Wantagh to mark the day. Newly installed Second Vice President Marilynne Rich, an independent social media consultant, expertly spread the word, generating more than 80,000 followers online by the time the parade stepped off.

“It was long,” a weary Emily Fagin, of Seaford, said of the 1.5-mile route, which began at Wantagh High School and finished at Triangle Park. Wearing the signature curls and tiara of Irish dancing, Fagin said that her group, from the Schade Academy in East Meadow, still had a ways to go, with performances scheduled for later in the day.

Cooper, a Leonberger therapy dog, seemed to agree on the parade’s length, lapping up bottle after bottle of water, to the delight of onlookers. The giant dogs were originally bred in Baden-Würtemberg, Germany, where they were said to resemble the lion on the town of Leonberg’s coat of arms, according to Cooper’s owner, Lou D’Amore, who now lives in Floral Park. Cooper and D’Amore, who walked as part of Wantagh’s Bideawee contingent in the parade, visit St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bethpage several times a week, where they spend time with post-surgical patients, among others, D’Amore said.

Darcy Rimkunas, 8, of Brownie Troop 879, came all the way from Huntington, but not just to watch the parade. Her Irish grandmother, Wantagh resident Peggy Connell, was celebrating her 77th birthday the following day, she said. She took advantage of the occasion and the crowds to offer a wagon full of Girl Scout cookies.

Cookie sales weren’t as brisk as beer sales, though. The bouncer at the Wantagh Inn was too busy to talk, as patrons and members of the New York City Police Department’s Emerald Society crowded the inn and overflowed into the back, where the beer tent was doing a brisk business in both regular and green-colored suds.

The scene was repeated next door at Cory’s Ale House, with the Nassau County Police Department’s Emerald contingent, whose vintage Chevrolet was parked outside.

The bagpipers were a hit with Declan Hilmann, 6, of Wantagh. His sister Maeve wasn’t too sure, but both enjoyed dressing up in emerald green and watching the parade, mother Lauren said.

Other vintage vehicles in the parade included a 1946 Chevrolet truck that Wantagh Board of Education Vice President Tony Grecco and his wife, Liz, both chamber members, had converted into a mobile pizza kitchen called Pies-on Wheels. “It has a pizza oven and a refrigerator,” Tony said, “and can turn out complete pies in about two minutes.”

Former Wantagh Fire Chief Steve Schuman’s 1930 Model A fire truck added to the fleet of vintage vehicles. “I wouldn’t miss it,” the 42-year veteran of the Wantagh Volunteer Fire Department said of the parade. The truck, which he now owns, left service as a fire vehicle in 1956, he said, and these days he enters it in local events.

To view more photos from the event, click here