Steeped in the shadows of concrete industry and wood frame homes, the Old First Ward was a way of life and a state of mind, a place of dreams lost and found. ~ Brian Higgins
The First Ward Parade or the Old Neighborhood Parade (as it has come to be known) is the redheaded stepchild of Buffalo’s St. Patrick's Day parade. The Old Neighborhood route, which angles close to the projects and in the shadow of rusted granaries, is an area in desperate need of revitalization. Years ago, a proposition floated to move the zoo into the neighborhood. Vetoed. The new Buffalo Bill’s stadium might be a good fit. Resistance. A solar panel factory providing industrial jobs for working class folks? Approved. No doubt it’s a challenging neighborhood, yet there is a scrappiness to the place--or maybe it’s that notorious Irish obstinacy. Gregory Peck once said, “I had that stubborn streak, the Irish in me, I guess.”
The parade route runs along South Park, Louisiana, Elk and O’Connell. Although, this year, O’Connell has been notably bypassed because, as Councilman David Francyzk pointed out, “... partying has gotten out of control with parade goers jumping over barriers ...”
Leahy’s bar is on O’Connell and in the past too many people have congregated on the porch to watch the parade. As the place is only open for private parties and no longer serves the general public, it was a prime place from which to watch the parade and to meet up afterward. It also served as the spot where my uncle met his future wife.
The parade isn’t only for those who live along the route but also for those of us whose families once dwelt there and just about everyone else who is inclined to celebrate all things South Buffalo Irish.
We cheer our civil service brethren, our working class unions, our pubs, politicians and insurance agents as they promenade to the chanter and to the drone of bagpipes. In the First Ward, the Irish and the Highlanders fuse - plaid is plaid is plaid.
My Uncle Danny is half Italian, and the rest is Irish and German, not Scottish. He mostly celebrates his maternal great grandfather’s arrival in Buffalo from County Clare and ignores the rest. While he was on the police force, he donned a kilt for the parade. Danny lived the Irish bachelor’s dream - handsome, hard drinking, rough tempered, as rogue as his uncles before him. Growing up, he seemed to me to walk right out of a Bruce Springsteen song with a Kathy or a Sandy or a Mary on his arm. Until Michele.
My uncle met Michele at the end of the parade route on Leahy’s porch. Our distant cousins introduced them. The next year he asked her to marry him on that same spot. He was fifty-four years old, be-skirted, on his knees with a neighborhood chum squeezing the bagpipes when he proposed. He offered Michele an emerald and diamond ring and a lifetime of togetherness. She said yes.
A few years ago, Michele was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a blood cancer. The diagnosis only served to make Danny ever more devoted to her. I’ve watched my “Born to Run” uncle come into his own as a loving husband, step-grandfather and devoted family man.
Whatever route the parade takes, my family’s stories and our history will march right along in concert.
Every year, I make corned beef and cabbage as my half Irish grandmother did before me. But I make it with my paternal Italian grandmother’s recipe. Nana grew up on Swan Street, which is close enough to the Old Neighborhood. The Irish may have the parade, but the Italians still own the kitchen.
From Nana’s Cookbook - Corned Beef and Cabbage
Corned Beef in a pouch with pickling juices
6 potatoes pealed and cut into large chunks
1 head Savoy Cabbage
Brown sugar to coat
Place brisket fat-side up in a large kettle and cover it with water. Bring the water to a boil; then reduce the heat and simmer, allowing about 1 hour per pound. Add the carrot, apple, potatoes and cabbage to kettle 20 to 30 minutes before done. After you add vegetables, pre-heat oven to °350.
When the meat is cooked, take out of kettle with tongs. Coat it with brown sugar and roast in oven.Slice meat against the grain. Ladle sauce and vegetables in soup bowls and place slices of corned beef on top.