Every 10 years, the people at the head of the annual Miller Place-Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade honor all the past community members who were lucky enough to be named grand marshal.
As the annual parade looks down the barrel of its 70th anniversary, the people who run the second oldest parade in Suffolk County have the task of respecting the past while looking to continue its run into the future.
The Friends of St. Patrick, a group of volunteers who have helped put on the parade for the last seven decades, hosted its third annual Luck of the Irish Casino Night March 6. During the group’s biggest yearly fundraiser, members said they were not only acknowledging the past, but trying to look toward the future.
“It costs about $40,000 to put this parade on, so fundraisers like this really help.”
— Hugh McCarrick
Unlike previous years when members would nominate a queen and her court, along with a grand marshal, this year members announced instead they would be supporting a local student with a $1,000 scholarship.
“The applications for [the queen and her court] were going way down, and we were seeing it as sort of a bygone era,” said James McElhone, the recently installed treasurer of the Friends of St. Patrick. “We decided to make it a scholarship that would be rotating between several local high schools to encourage people to write an essay on their Irish heritage.”
This year, Alexa Zichinelli, a senior at Miller Place High School, won with her essay about her Irish heritage, particularly of her great grandmother on her father’s side who came from Ireland during the Irish Potato Famine.
Her grandmother often talks about that history, of when her own mother was in County Clare in Ireland. Zichinelli wrote about the Irish folklore her grandmother loves to talk about, along with the family she left behind.
“Going to where my great-grandmother was from in Ireland, she lived by these rocks that she described looked over a cliff, so it was just kind of magic, where she was from,” she said.
Zichinelli said she will put the scholarship to use, as she intends to go to college for premed, particularly on the path toward being a pediatric heart surgeon.
Those who have been grand marshal in the past see the parade differently than most. It’s a tradition, yes, but it’s also been a way to celebrate and even define the North Shore communities along the Route 25A corridor. With 70 years of history, grand marshals have included noted community members like state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who was named grand marshal in 1989.
One family sticks out among those in the Rocky Point area. The McCarrick family owns property in the Rocky Point shopping district that once included the famed McCarrick’s Dairy before it closed in 2017 and later became a 7/11. Hugh McCarrick, one of the officers of the Friends of St. Patrick, said nine separate members of the McCarrick clan have been named grand marshal over the years. He and his brother Kevin, along with a slew of other past marshals, were both honored at the casino night March 6.
“Seventy means a tremendous amount.”
— Walter Colleran
Hugh McCarrick, who was named grand marshal in 1997, said going forward the objective is to make the parade more interesting every year, but with around 85 units in the parade this year, he added they are going strong. He thanked East Wind for hosting the fundraiser, which is easily its biggest of the year.
“It costs about $40,000 to put this parade on, so fundraisers like this really help,” he said.
Mike Tatilian, a grand marshal in 2015 and past president of the Friends of St. Patrick, said times have changed and they are always trying to bring in flesh blood to help out. Nothing else says that times have changed in seven decades than the number of St. Patrick’s Day parades around Suffolk County. While the Huntington parade is in its 86th year, hamlets like Kings Park and Jamesport are celebrating only their 10th and seventh years, respectively, of the annual parade. Tatilian said they’re always trying to compete for spectators, of which the MP-RP parade usually gets 25,000-30,000 along its 3-mile run.
“There’s competition — you’re competing for fans,” he said. “When there used to be a few parades, now there’s many.”
Walter Colleran was named grand marshal in 2013 and said 70 years means a lot to a parade, also helping to display how its changed.
“Seventy means a tremendous amount — [the parade] started out years ago as an opportunity for everybody to hang out on the street and drink beer, but over the years it’s turned into a very family-oriented affair.”