T.J. White gathers his fellow bagpipers and begins to warm-up as they get ready to walk a half mile down Main Street in Huntington, New York. Ahead of them, more than 2,000 spectators dressed in a kaleidoscope of green await.
White’s ensemble, the Amityville American Legion Piping Band, is one of the 22 bagpipe groups that played and marched in Huntington’s 86th annual St. Patrick’s Parade on Sunday. There are more than a dozen St. Patrick’s Parades across Long Island in March, and Huntington’s is the oldest running parade on the island.
“[The bagpipe] is kind of a dying talent,” White said. “A lot of people don’t do it; there are very few young bagpipers. But, to me, it’s all part of the history… it’s important we keep that kind of stuff going.”
About half of the band’s gigs happen in the St. Patrick’s season, White told The Osprey. They also play their pipes and drums for Memorial Day, Veterans Day, the Fourth of July and throughout the summer during various firefighter parades.
The Huntington parade was paid for and organized by Division IV of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), an organization dedicated to celebrating and preserving Irish history nationwide. Each year, the AOH Division IV raises money through advertisements to fund the parade. This year, attendance was especially high after last year’s parade occurred on a rainy day.
“Marching down, it gets bigger and bigger on both sides, and all the way to Main Street was packed,” Tom Dougherty, President of the AOH Division IV, said. “For the people [who] are Irish, or any nationality, it’s always good to remember where you came from and keep those traditions in play.”
When it comes to Long Island’s parades for St. Patrick’s Day, one thing that’s remained consistent is the tradition of people attending with their loved ones, Dougherty said.
“Everybody shares their heritage in a different way, and St. Patrick’s Day is my favorite way to celebrate my heritage,” Franklin Square resident and Irish descendant, Kerry Schoenwandt, said at Huntington’s parade. “You know the Irish—they like to eat, they like to drink—so St. Patrick’s Day is the day we go out and we celebrate.”
Across the United States, millions of young and old Americans of Irish ancestry celebrate their cultural identity and history by taking part in St. Patrick’s Parades. In order for parades to run on the streets, police block off the parade route to secure a safe environment for celebration and festivities.
“We take care of crowd control and enforcing the law,” Ltn. Michael Teplansky of the Suffolk County Police Department said. “Our main priority is to make sure people have fun and stay safe.”
Saint Patrick’s Season has only just begun on Long Island. Next Sunday, the Bayport-Blue Point Parade begins at 11 a.m. and the Village of Farmingdale Parade steps off at 1 p.m. The New York City St. Patrick’s Parade is scheduled for March 17. And on the 22nd, the village of Patchogue will hold a St. Patrick’s 5k at 11 a.m. and a parade at 12:30 p.m.