PORT JERVIS -- Hundreds turned out for Port Jervis’ annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Blarney Blast on Sunday afternoon, March 6. The recent cold snap gave way to a 65-degree sunny afternoon for marchers, bands, units, bagpipers, Irish dancers and spectators to enjoy the event.
The parade featured kilt-adorned bagpipers, bands, soldiers from West Point, community volunteers dressed in green, and even two brown shaggy sheep. Fire, police and EMS units, and others, tossed candy to children seated curbside.
Hosted by Port Jervis Tourism Board, everyone was urged to come out and bring their ‘glitter, shimmer, and green’.
Following the parade, demonstrations and performances took place mid-street in historic downtown. Irish dance, music, and enthusiasm filled a closed-off-to-traffic section of the business district -- and the celebration continued.
Trophies were presented in the following categories.
Best Presentation First Responders: Matamoras Fire Department, Most Irish Spirit: Brownie Troop 00703, Best Marching Unit: Westchester County Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, Best St. Patrick’s Day Float: VFW Post 161, and Grand Marshal’s Choice Trophy – Michael McCarthy Memorial Award: Sheahan Gromley School of Irish Dance.
Meet Port Jervis' Saint Patrick’s Day 2022 Grand Marshal -- Al Gessner
Grand Marshal Al Gessner enjoyed everything about Port's Saint Patrick's Day Parade and Blarney Blast, and is appreciative of having been asked. Gessner and his wife Patty have a strong Irish background and celebrate their heritage in many ways.
The two, and their four children and eight grandchildren, love music and play a wide range of musical instruments. Al has operated Al’s Music Shop on Fowler Street for many decades. Both are in The Broome Street Traveling All-Star Band, which Al founded. They have performed weekly for the past 13-years with “The Parting Glass”, an Irish band.
“The parting glass is a term for saying good-bye at the end of the night, when everyone goes home and we thank everyone for being there,” Gessner said. “That’s why the band was named The Parting Glass. It’s the last song we sing each time we perform.”
While both Al and Patty are of Irish descent, Al noted that his mother’s side came from the Belfast area of Ireland in the 1880s-1890s.
“I grew up as part of a great Irish Protestant family. We always wore Orange to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, representing the Protestant faith. Patty’s family wore green, and she grew up Catholic Irish. Her family came to Philadelphia and then to Port Jervis in 1876,” Al explained.
Gessner noted that religion is important and central to Ireland, and has been behind much of the country’s troubles over the years.
“But we both grew up with music, and singing Irish songs,” he said. “My mother used to sew uniforms for musical groups, and would iron and sing Irish songs as she did this. Patty came from the same type of family.”
The couple has visited Ireland four times, including with their children and grandchildren.
“It’s beautiful! We don’t do the tours. We prefer to stay in a place for a week or two and get to know the people,” Al said. “We haven’t visited the north. There were troubles between the north and south when Patty and I met back in 1971, and there are still issues in the north. We love visiting Dublin and other areas, though. We’ve rented a cottage in a fishing village, and then a farm house when we visited with our family.”
Gessner said he and Patty met during freshman orientation in college in 1971. He kidded that there was a song that could easily have been written about the two. "The Orange and the Green”, an Irish folk song about growing up in a family with one parent Protestant "Orange" and one Catholic "Green".
But the couple, unlike the humorous lyrics in this song, have had a lot of fun performing, celebrating, hosting parties and neighborhood events, and once invited and provided 44-pounds of corned beef in a neighborhood celebration. They also hosted children from Ireland, back in the 1970’s, who were seeking an escape from the troubles in their native country.
They are each very active in their community, and celebrate a shared love of music, family, and their Irish backgrounds.
How did Al enjoy Sunday’s Port Jervis’ St. Patrick’s Day celebration, and being the event’s
“The sun was out. I enjoyed seeing so many people, and it was just a great day.”