Dermot and his late wife Kathleen.

A bittersweet New York parade for Dermot Sexton

DERMOT Sexton will mark his 50th year as a volunteer for the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade by blowing the ceremonial silver whistle which officially starts the 256th Parade.

It will be a bittersweet honor for Sexton, a native of Nurney, in County Kildare.

His beloved wife of 55 years, Kathleen Garvin Sexton, who was a native of Carratigue in Erris, won’t be by his side to share the honor. She died on January 17, 2017, after living with cancer for 32 years.

“I hope I can pull it off,” he said. “I’m praying to Kathleen to help me.”

At 11 a.m. sharp, when Sexton blows the whistle, the “Fighting 69th,” the 69th Infantry Regiment, will step off from 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, first in the line of march, its traditional place of honor at every New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade since 1853. More than 100,000 marchers are expected to follow the 69th Regiment up Fifth Avenue.

This year’s Grand Marshal is Michael J. Dowling, a native of County Limerick, and President & CEO of Northwell Health. This year’s Parade honors Catholic Charities and the New York State Troopers, which are both celebrating their 100th anniversary of helping New Yorkers in need.

Mr. Sexton, who came to New York on a lark as a 20-year-old in 1957, still speaks with a beguiling Irish brogue.

He had planned to return to Ireland, but instead, he married Kathleen Garvin, from Carratigue, County Mayo. In 1967, his brother-in-law, Frank McGreal Sr., brought him to work in the Parade.

“I was running around like a crazy man, it was years before they even knew my name,” he recalled, “but when you work hard, they don’t let you go.”

In 1992, Sexton, who lives in Hawthorne, N.Y., was given one of the Parade’s most challenging jobs, running the East Side Formation area of the Parade. As Chairman of East Side Formation, Sexton supervises a team of a dozen workers, who are responsible for moving thousands of marchers and hundreds of bands across Madison Avenue, through traffic and onto Fifth Avenue, while trying to keep to a timetable that changes each year.