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Clash of the Holidays

Desiree Cooper

Sanden Totten

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St. Patrick's Day parade reveler
(Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)
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St. Patrick's Day isn't until next weekend. But next weekend also marks the beginning of the Catholic Holy Week.

Many cities are moving their St. Patrick's Day celebrations up a week to avoid the conflict between revelry and religion. But not in Columbus, Ohio -- there, the Shamrock Club, which sponsors the city's annual parade, is sticking with March 17, despite requests from local Catholic authorities to move it.

That puts Irish Catholics like John O'Grady in a quandry. He's the clerk of courts for Franklin County and he's running for county commissioner. Can he afford to miss the opportunity to campaign at the St. Patrick's Day Parade? I asked John to share with us his memories of the parade:

John O'Grady: The first time I was in the St. Patrick's Day parade was my senior year in high school. St. Patrick's Day was a few days after my team won the state wrestling championship. So we were all asked to be in the parade, and we rode on the back of a flat bed truck. That was kind of a big deal for me. I wasn't just a guy from the team that was on the truck -- I was one of the Irish guys from the team on the truck.

What was it like being on that float at that moment?

You know, at the time I was 17 years old. The most vivid thing in my mind was: "Gee, I wonder what the girls think of this?" You know? Seventeen years old! But it was the first time I realized just how important being Irish was to me.

So John, you were in your first parade at the age of 17. That was 1982. How many parades have you been to since then?

To the best of my recollection, all but one.


All but one, yeah.

What was it like to miss that one time?

It was lonely. I was in Washington, D.C., with a few folks I worked with. Obviously, it was something I couldn't miss -- but to not be with what is so familiar, that was a big empty pit. I felt like I missed a whole celebration that was going to last a year for me. It's a big day, and it connects you with who you are. There are so many things that define us, and one of the things that defines me is being Irish.

Well another thing that defines you is being Catholic. So, I'm wondering, how Catholic are you?

Well, I'm very active in my parish. I count my parish priest and the nun that is at my parish as two of my best friends in all the world. And as a politician, being Catholic and having those relationships in the Catholic community in Columbus and in Franklin County is really kind of a strong part of my base.

With St. Patrick's Day falling during Holy Week, there are a number of people nationwide who feel like it's inappropriate to march in a St. Patrick's Day parade, because of the high level of celebration during such a holy time. That's brought up a conundrum for you.

Well, yeah, it's a difficult situation.

And what did you decide?

You know, it wasn't an easy decision in that I knew that by making it meant that I was going to have to give something up and to make a sacrifice. At the same time, while I am Irish by birth, I am Catholic by choice -- and Catholic by choice every day. And when the bishop asked us not to celebrate on St. Patrick's Day, that made my decision pretty clear for me. I guess I'll just have to wait for next year.

I have to ask you John, is that also partly a political decision?

The initial decision is no, it's not at all. It's a decision of belief, a decision of faith. Then come the ensuing questions of how does this look politically? The nice thing is, from a political perspective, if I want to, I can hide behind the fact that my wife is due with her fourth child on St. Patrick's Day. And the doctor has told us the induction will be that morning.

Wow! Talk about paying homage to your heritage. What are you going to name the baby?

You know, we are back-and-forth. We already have a Patrick, and my wife is pretty serious about what we name our children. And so she hasn't felt anything special yet. So we don't have name necessarily at the moment, but ...

Well, I am wishing you the luck of the Irish with your upcoming child.

Well, thank you. I appreciate it Des.

  • Music Bridge:
    Days Of Grace III
    Artist: Sian Alice Group
    CD: 59.59 (The Social Registry)


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