December 4
by Jack Fay

A moment earlier the sky had been filled with twirling batons; the air with toots and tweets; and the clank of metal rifle butts on cold concrete. The marchers started nervously and out of step. South Boston’s 1975 St. Patrick’s Day Parade was on the move.

Andrew Cahill, a visitor from Belfast, watched from the doorway of Finneran’s. “An exuberant people my kinsmen are,” Cahill said to the frosted glass of ale.

An incident at the intersection of West Broadway and L Street loaned proof to Cahill’s observation. The Hibernian Drum and Bugle Corps, outfitted in Navy blue uniforms, scarlet epaulets, white gloves and shiny chrome helmets, moved in swinging cadence to the percussive beat of drums. A longshoreman, drunk from a breakfast of boilermakers, lurched into the street and grabbed at the chrome helmet of a bugler. Without missing a step, the marcher swung his bugle in a long arc, striking the longshoreman on the side of the head, knocking him to the pavement. All and sundry applauded.

A sweeping curve marked the end of West Broadway. Three blocks south of the curve was South Boston High School. Broken glass from smashed school bus windshields had been swept out of sight in September of the previous year, but the bitterness remained. A sign made of white tarpaulin hung above the front door to Carmody’s Furniture Store. In big, red letters, the sign said: KEEP SOUTHIE FREE.

The street began to slope upward. Old-timers wearing American Legion caps felt the strain but managed to stay in step; the mayor’s head jerked as the city’s open-air limousine downshifted; and flossy pom-poms began to shake with less enthusiasm. Bridget Hurley, Queen of the Parade, had a moment of panic when her throne slid an inch or two toward the back end of the flat bed truck that was loaned to the event by Feeney Brothers and Sons, General Contractors.

Ahead and to the left was Gaffney’s Funeral Home. In the main parlor sat six men, all of them veterans of the Big War. Their old friend, Duddy Young, lay in the casket before them. At once the six mourners heard the unmistakable rhythm of The Stars and Stripes Forever. Billy Kinsella jumped to his feet, and in a training sergeant’s voice, announced to his fellow mourners, “We canna let Duddy miss the parade, boyos. Put aside the Jameson’s and grab ahold.” The six friends of Duddy Young carried the casket to the top of the funeral home’s front stairs and stood it on one end. Through the open space on the casket’s lid, Duddy watched the marchers go by. Some said that Duddy gave a little smile when the ROTC’s commanding officer rendered a sharp salute to his fallen comrade.

The parade would have ended without mishap had it not been for the broken nose acquired by Nellie Potts. Three sheets to the wind, she was, and leaning far out of a second floor window, waving the tricolor to beat the band, Nellie was caught by a burst of wind and pulled from the window. She belly-flopped on the awning below, bounced, and in a graceless swan dive, her nose made the acquaintance of the sidewalk in front of Milo’s Sandwich Shop. Nellie’s injury could have been avoided if Tom O’Shea had not stepped aside when he saw Nellie gliding in his direction. Tom explained, “What’s a man to do? I had a pint o’ Guinness in me hand.”