Irish roots run extremely deep throughout the Mahoning Valley.
Indeed they stretch back centuries to 1796 when Daniel Shehy of rural Tipperary County, Ireland, accompanied by American pioneer John Young, played an instrumental role in the founding of the city of Youngstown.
After an infusion of Ulster Irish into the Valley in the early 19th century, massive waves arrived here in the middle of that century to escape the devastating effects of their native nation’s potato famine. Once here, they enjoyed a new and prosperous life while providing the muscle for a critical labor force in the burgeoning steel mills and railroads.
For more than two centuries, Irish immigrants and their descendants have stood among the titans of this region’s business, industrial, political and cultural heavy hitters. Today, those of Irish descent who call Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties home, comprise about 15 percent of the region’s population.
Their pride in Ireland and their allegiance to benevolent Irish values are hard to contain.
Come 1 p.m. Sunday, that exuberant “Erin Go Bragh” (“Ireland Forever”) pride will be on colorful, celebratory and super-sized display when the 40th annual Mahoning Valley St. Patrick’s Day Parade rolls down its 1.5-mile route along Market Street in Boardman.
Once again this year, The Vindicator is proud to be a major media sponsor of the event. And what an event it is. Today, the St. Pat’s Parade stands out as the largest seasonal parade in the Mahoning Valley and one of the largest in the state with average crowd sizes approaching and sometimes exceeding 30,000 spectators.
The parade, much like festivals celebrating Italian-American, African-American, Polish and other heritages that are summer Slovak staples in our region, provides a golden opportunity for Irish and non-Irish alike to revel in a fun-filled joy-filled day that recognizes the contributions of that culture to the growth and richness of our community.
GRAND MARSHAL Pete Gabriel
On its 40th brithday this year, the parade takes a delightfully nostalgic turn with Pete Gabriel serving as grand marshal. Gabriel, a radio personality in the Youngstown market for decades, challenged the community in 1979 to amass one of the biggest and best holiday parades around. Irish-Americans in the Valley came through with aplomb.
Forty years later, that labor of love that is the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade just keeps getting bigger and better.
In addition to the fun, floats and pageantry that typifies any first-class parade, the event with more than 100 units ranging from marching bands to colorful floats to political candidates also serves as a vehicle to draw attention to and heap deserving praise on outstanding individuals who have contributed to the success of the parade and to the enrichment of life for all in the Valley.
In addition to Gabriel, this year’s honorees include Wally Dunne, recipient of the Lord Mayor of Kilkenny honor. Dunne, a past president of the parade, has an impressive five-decade resume in Irish-Catholic education in Northeast Ohio as a teacher and administrator in a host of offices within the Diocese of Youngstown.
Receiving this year’s John Oekerman Award is Bob Pushay, a member of the founding committee of the parade and a leader in Mahoning Valley Gaelic and other Irish heritage organizations for decades. Pushay, an award-winning highway engineer and founder of Andrews Metal Products in Youngstown, has been a prime force in the parade’s maturation and growth.
Also receiving honors this year is Nena Perkins, the indomitable community events manager for The Vindicator who has worked consistently over the past 12 years to ensure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed in parade planning so that it rolls off from McClurg Road and Market Street without a hitch to its completion at Southwoods Avenue.
As the luck of the Irish would have it, tomorrow’s weather forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s, a welcome relief from the unseasonably cold conditions of recent days.
So grab your jacket, stake out a prime spot along the parade route and celebrate the day when everyone in the Valley is Irish in grand, festive style.