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Debate Rages: When Will Parade Grand Marshal Be a She?

January 26, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ It is, they say, the greatest honor to befall an Irishman in America: to be grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and lead 100,000 sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle up Fifth Avenue.

Someday - someday soon - the honor will go to an Irishwoman. But probably not this year.

In 225 years, a woman has yet to lead New York’s parade, the nation’s oldest and largest. A consensus is beginning to emerge that it is getting to be about time. But maybe not just yet.

″I feel that maybe it’s my year,″ said John Lawe, president of the Transport Workers Union of America and the apparent front-runner in the race.

The time for a woman, he said, is soon.

On Tuesday night, about 400 delegates from Irish organizations will meet at a hotel and cast ballots for grand marshal in the March 17 parade. The winner will be named Wednesday.

It is a process rivaling presidential primaries for intrigue and complexity. Politicking has been going on for a year or more. Candidates began lining up even before last year’s election, and some people say the 1988 and 1989 races are already under way.

The six announced candidates this year included four women and two men. Among the women was actress Maureen O’Hara, born Maureen FitzSimons in Dublin.

Miss O’Hara dropped out over the weekend, as did Dympna Kenny, an activist in Irish cultural affairs. Both threw their support behind Lawe, who Miss O’Hara said ″richly deserves the honor.″ She said she will run next year; Ms. Kenny said she probably will too.

That leaves Willie Joe Cunningham, a man who is president of the United Irish Counties Association; Dorothy Hayden Cudahy, ″the first lady of Irish radio″; and Mary Holt Moore, a teacher of Irish history and Gaelic.

Mrs. Cudahy and Mrs. Moore say they like and respect Lawe. But they aren’t willing to concede that this is his year to be grand marshal.

″I think my prospects are very good,″ said Mrs. Cudahy, who ran last year - the first year women were allowed on the ballot - and lost by 56 votes out of 399 cast.

″I’m very optimistic,″ she said. ″I think it’s time for a woman.″

Mrs. Moore, who speaks with a bit of an Irish lilt despite having been born and raised in the Bronx, conceded that Lawe is the front-runner but said she and Mrs. Cudahy still have a chance.

″It takes the men a long time to get used to the idea that we’re here,″ she said. ″It’s like they never knew it all along.″

Last year’s grand marshal, Alfred O’Hagan Jr., said it was ″high time″ that a woman became grand marshal, although his vote is going to Lawe. He said Mrs. Cudahy would be a good choice for 1988.

Being grand marshal, O’Hagan noted, does not require great skill. ″The only official duty he has is to lead the parade, hopefully in the right direction,″ he said.

Nonetheless, it is an honor that, to this point, only a man can describe.

″If I live to be 110, I’ll never see another day like that in my life,″ O’Hagan said. ″To be leading all the Irish up Fifth Avenue ... it’s a feeling you really can’t describe. It’s like walking on a cloud, it’s not reality.″

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