Brendan Fay and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy, the driving forces behind the annual St. Pat’s For All Parade in Sunnyside and Woodside, are in Dublin to receive the 2016 Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad. | COURTESY: BRENDAN FAY
An Irishman who came to America and an Irish-American woman whose family has been here for nearly a century are going back to the old country to be honored by its president for “sustained and distinguished service to Ireland and Irish communities abroad.”
Brendan Fay and Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy are two of the recipients of the 2016 Presidential Distinguished Service Awards for the Irish Abroad, which will be presented by President Michael D. Higgins at Aras an Uachtarain, the presidential residence, at a state dinner in Dublin on December 8.
In the letter announcing the awards, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan wrote to Fay and Walsh D’Arcy, “The central role you play for the Irish Community in the United States has a very positive, far-reaching impact, not the least with the LGBT community in New York.”
Leaders of Queens inclusive St. Pat’s Parade fêted for “very positive, far-reaching impact” on nation’s diaspora
Fay and Walsh D’Arcy are longtime activists and organizers, and 2016 saw the fulfillment of Fay’s decades-long battle, as the Lavender and Green Alliance became the first LGBT group allowed to march openly in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Fifth Avenue.
Fay, a native of Drogheda, County Louth, was one of the founders of the Lavender and Green Alliance in 1994, and of ILGO (the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization), which protested the Fifth Avenue parade annually –– and for many years got arrested. In 1999, he founded the inclusive St. Pat’s for All Parade, which steps off on the first Sunday of March in Sunnyside and Woodside, Queens.
Walsh D’Arcy is a community organizer, feminist, and human rights activist, whose ancestors emigrated the United States in the 1920s.
“Here they found a community of Irish people in New York that worked to preserve Irish music, culture, politics –– a community of people who took care of each other,” she said.
Walsh D’Arcy became co-chair of St. Pat’s for All in 2007.
This year marked the centennial of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising, the short-lived rebellion that was violently quashed by the British, but set the stage for the country’s independence in 1920. The revolutionaries declared an Irish Republic that “guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights, and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all of the children of the nation equally.”
Fay adopted that idea and that goal when he founded St. Pat’s for All, and it’s displayed at the top of the parade website, on the ubiquitous green hoodies that the organizing committee members wear, and on the banner at the head of the parade each year.
Fay said that his and Walsh D’Arcy’s award “is a huge recognition of the movement to make our Irish parades and celebrations more welcoming, and an acknowledgment of the hopes and efforts by LGBT immigrants seeking our place in the New York Irish diaspora. I’m humbled to receive this award as a gay man and to return home to a transformed Ireland. I am reminded of the determination of activists that kept a movement through years of protest, arrests, and exclusion. Hope and steady confidence in the cause of equality kept us going for 25 years.”
In addition to the state dinner, Fay and his husband, Dr. Tom Moulton, are using their time in Ireland to celebrate with family and friends and meet with local LGBT community leaders. Fay is also set to do a talkback after a performance of Irish musician and playwright Brian Fleming’s show, “A Sacrilegious Lesbian and Homosexual Parade,” which is about Fay and St. Pat’s for All.
Flanagan, the minister for foreign affairs, commended all the recipients of awards this week for their impressive work overseas, saying the honors enable Ireland to recognize some of “the finest members of our diaspora for their contribution to Ireland, the Irish community abroad, and Ireland’s reputation. In the ever changing world we live in, this remarkable group of individuals have been a constant beacon for Ireland and the values we hold dear.”
Juxtaposing last year’s referendum victory for marriage equality in his homeland against the recent political upheaval in his adopted country, Fay said, “As we enter a new political phase here in the United States with President-elect Trump, some of my [Irish] friends are considering a return to the new and more welcoming Ireland. But I say that when people unite in common cause it is possible to overcome discrimination and transform communities and cultural life.”
He sees the need for activism now more than ever.
“The work for equality is ongoing,” Fay said, “in schools, in communities, in churches. We continue to make our cultural celebrations more welcoming and to address bullying and to show solidarity with arriving immigrants and refugees.”
Fay isn’t staying long in Ireland on this trip. It’s parade-planning season, and he, Walsh D’Arcy, and their volunteer committee are looking to make this coming year’s St. Pat’s for All the biggest one yet, not turning anyone away, and welcoming every person and group that wants to march.