You might say Long Beachers like Peggy Callahan have the luck of the Irish. She gets to publicly sing her favorite traditional Irish songs in Long Beach on two different days — not just St. Patrick's Day, but also St. Brendan's Day, otherwise known as Irish Day.
Callahan's favorites are "The Patriot Game," a rebel song, and "The Galway Shawl," which she describes as "another pretty song."
Her fondness for Irish songs stretches back to her childhood, when her Irish immigrant parents would take their five children to relatives' homes in the Bronx after Sunday Mass in Manhattan, where Callahan's cousins gathered with fiddles to perform.
"I sing because I was brought up with the music," Callahan said. "My mother and father were both born in Ireland and my mother is one of 13 children, almost all of whom immigrated to America."
Her friend Carol O'Neill remembers marching down 5th Avenue in Manhattan on St. Patrick's Day when she was a girl. She played the drums in a pipe-and-fife band at St. Sebastian Elementary School in Woodside. "It was just a lot of fun," O'Neill recalled.
These days, O'Neill is usually working on St. Patrick's Day, but she always manages to get out at lunchtime at the law firm where she works, at 55th Street and 3rd Avenue, and walks to 5th Avenue, even if for only a half hour, just to hear the bagpipers play.
"It's always necessary for me to do it, for me to have a full, good feeling for St. Patrick's Day," said O'Neill, who took off work one year and marched in the parade with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish-Catholic organization.
When Callahan isn't working in administration at a Far Rockaway hospital or selling real estate in Long Beach or Island Park on St. Patrick's Day, she can be spotted marching with the AOH on 5th Avenue.
On St. Patrick's Day and Irish Day, held the first Saturday in October, both women like to start their day by attending an early-morning Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Island Park, after which they have breakfast at a Long Beach tavern.
But they draw distinctions between the two days. While St. Patrick's Day means going to the city and coming home with a group on a bus, Irish Day, held for the past 20 years in the bar-studded West End, is a parade and street festival that is, as some have described it, one big block party that attracts people from all backgrounds. It has a more communal and familial feel, with a growing diversity of people with booths set up along West Beech Street to sell their ethnic food and wares, they said.
"I like it because it is very diversified," Callahan, who lived in Long Beach for 36 years and now calls Island Park home, said of Irish Day.
"As much as I love St. Patrick's Day," said O'Neill, who has lived in the West End for the past 20 years, "you just don't get that small, hometown feeling that you get in Long Beach on Irish Day ... I love it because a lot of the families come out and they're walking around. I just think it's a nice community day."
The two friends march in the Irish Day parade together under the banner of the Michelle O'Neill Foundation, a summer volleyball charity event that raises money for children with cancer, in memory of O'Neill's daughter, who succumbed to the disease.
In 2008, O'Neill served as the Grand Marshal of the parade, which proved to be quite memorable for her. "That had to be one of the absolute highlights of my life," she said.
* This story was originally posted on Oct. 1, 2010, entitled "Irish Day vs. St. Patrick's Day: What's the Difference?"