Former U.S. Sen. Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, who negotiated the Good Friday Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland, will step off as grand marshal of New York’s 255th St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Mitchell, 82, a Catholic who resides in the archdiocese, was named by the parade’s board of directors.
“I am deeply honored to be asked to serve as the grand marshal of what is a truly great American institution, as well as a celebration of the contributions of Irish Americans to our society,” Mitchell said at a Jan. 11 news conference at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan, where his appointment was announced. Cardinal Dolan, who served as last year’s grand marshal, offered a prayer at the ceremony.
“I believe in the American dream,” Mitchell continued, “because I have lived it. And I know now after all these years that it was both the sacrifice and devotion of my Irish father and my Lebanese mother, and the freedom of America that made it possible for me to do what I’ve done in my life, and as a result of that to be standing here this evening.”
“It is indeed fitting that the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day Parade, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising which gave birth to Irish independence, has as its grand marshal Sen. George Mitchell, who played such an important role in our quest for freedom,” said John Lahey, board chairman.
“In his many accomplishments in a lifetime of public service, perhaps Sen. Mitchell’s greatest achievement is the gift he gave the people of Ireland—peace,” Lahey added.
Cardinal Dolan, in his prayer, said, “Might our parade this year do justice to the patriotism, bravery and longing for freedom that we recall with gratitude and reverence this centennial year, of the start of the 1916 Uprising. And may the exemplary career of indefatigable efforts for reconciliation and peace, those efforts of our illustrious grand marshal this year, indeed bring meaning and sustenance to us all.”
After serving as U.S. Attorney for Maine, of which he is a native, Mitchell became a federal judge and later was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1980. He was elected to his first full Senate term in 1982 and became Senate Majority Leader in 1989.
In 1995, President Bill Clinton named Mitchell U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. After leading a commission to establish the terms of non-violence to which all groups in Northern Ireland had to adhere, Mitchell played a significant role in leading the all-party peace negotiations, which led to the Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998.
In addition to his work in Northern Ireland, Mitchell led a commission with the intent of resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. His report investigating the possible causes of the Second Intifada was published in 2001, and led to his appointment as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace in 2009.
Mitchell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Liberty Medal for his work in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations. He was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1998.
The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade marches in honor of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland and of the archdiocese.
After Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the parade begins at 11 a.m. at 44th Street and proceeds up Fifth Avenue to 79th Street.
The parade marched for the first time in 1762.
About 250,000 people—including marching bands, bagpipers in marching formations and high school and college bands from throughout the world—march in the parade before 2 million spectators.