Ready to march
EAST ISLIP—It’s that time of year again, a time to put on your green and get ready for the 54th annual John P. Reilly Memorial St. Patrick’s Day Parade in East Islip, sponsored by Division 7 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. And as the parade plans get underway, grand marshal James O’Kane of Islip is practicing the wave he’ll be doing a lot of during the March 3 event.
It was recognition this retired NYPD officer never expected, or wanted for that matter. “I really don’t like to be the center of attention,” he said. He added, “It is a tremendous honor, though.”
Dave Ring, chairman of the parade, said O’Kane was chosen because of all of the assistance he has given to the organization in the years he’s been a member.
“He’ll volunteer for anything, anytime,” Ring said. “If you need someone to help out, he’s there – a community service kind of guy. [That’s why] he’s a really good pick for grand marshal.”
O’Kane’s volunteer work with AOH includes working on the Special Olympics, the breast cancer outing, family picnic and also volunteering at the St. Mary’s annual fair. He is a member of the color guard for the pipe band Roisin Dubh.
The lifelong resident of Islip Town attended St. Mary’s School, St. John the Baptist High School and also New York Institute of Technology. His exposure to the AOH began with his father, Patrick, who was actually a founding member of Division 7. And that’s one of the reasons he wanted to join as well. “It’s a great organization. The charity work we do [as a group] is very impressive,” he noted. “You have to give back if you have the means to give to someone less fortunate.”
O’Kane’s mother, MaryEllen, who has passed away, had family from Ireland. He said his father is from Northern Ireland, where it was against the law to be a practicing Roman Catholic. And so Irish celebrations at home were relatively low-key. However, he remembers attending the East Islip parade every year and also watching the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade on television.
In fact, in the 20 years he was on the police force, O’Kane marched in the NYC parade almost every year. He said there are many similarities in both parades, but the local one is purist.
“The city parade lets other groups march such as political groups,” he explained. “It’s supposed to be a celebration. Politics shouldn’t be involved.”
O’Kane said he is looking forward to the event. And although his dad will not be marching, he will join him on stage. “He’s as proud as he can be,” he said.
Ring said the parade kicks off on Sunday, March 3 at 2 p.m. at the East Islip Library and travels a little under two miles west to Irish Lane. There will be 50 groups marching and among them will be at least 10 pipe bands.
“It’s the signature event of the year in East Islip,” Ring remarked. “People really look forward to it.”
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