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Irish flags, selfies and Leo chants: Taoiseach gets a pep in his step walking down Fifth Avenue

Leo Varadkar said it was a privilege to march in the New York City parade today
Mar 17th 2018, 8:00 PM 35,618 150

Taoiseach visits United States of America The Taoiseach takes selfies with the crowd in New York. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“LEO! GO ON LEO”: Those were the chants coming from the Irish-American crowd that had lined up along New York’s Fifth Avenue to see the St Patrick’s Day parade.

It’s become somewhat of a tradition for the Taoiseach to attend the parade, which is one of the largest in the world – but this year was a little different.

There was added significance to it today: It’s just two years after the restrictions on gay rights groups marching in the parade were lifted; Ireland has a new gay Taoiseach, and his partner was marching alongside him.

It is also just a couple of days after he spoke about LGBT rights with Vice-President Mike Pence, who notably shut down access to the media to the annual St Patrick’s Day breakfast he hosts for the Taoiseach of the day.


Gathering outside St Patrick’s Cathedral after mass, the Taoiseach waited to take his place in the parade.

New York police officers, marching bands, majorette performers and even a few Sinn Féiners (Mary Lou McDonald and Louise O’Reilly) passed by Varadkar.

Eventually it was time to set off. The Taoiseach took to the centre of the road, flanked by secret service officers, but most notably, by his partner Matt Barrett.

Taoiseach visits United States of America Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (centre) and his partner Matt Barrett walk in the St Patrick's Day parade on 5th Avenue in New York City. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

“Hi Leo! Leo, Leo,” “Taoiseach, Taoiseach”, “Up the rugby”, shouted bystanders who were held back by the barricades.

“We’re Fine Gaelers,” shouted one woman, while others were not so sure what all the fuss was about. “Who is that guy?” asked another.

No doubt the love-in he was experiencing on the streets of New York this morning were a welcome change to the headlines back home about planning permissions and wind farms in Doonbeg.

There was not sense those issues were pressing on the Taoiseach’s mind today, as random strangers shouted his name.

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Not wanting it to go to his head, Varadkar later told the media he assumed those shouting his name were Irish people who were here on holiday.

“I doubt I am that well-known here in America,” he joked.

Taoiseach visits United States of America Source: Niall Carson

Though the sun was shining, it was still cold March weather on streets of Manhattan.

Some on the sidelines were in good spirits, but others were  worrying about the Leo’s partner’s choice of attire for the cold snap – a light navy jacket.  “Sure, he’ll freeze,” said one woman.

Perhaps the excitement of the whole experience staved off the chill, and in a blink of an eye, the long walk down one of the world’s most famous streets was over.

So, how was Leo Varadkar’s first St Patrick’s Day parade as Taoiseach?

It was a real, real privilege to be able to walk with my partner in the parade in New York only a few years ago people couldn’t march under the rainbow banner – but that has all changed. Ireland has embraced diversity and inclusiveness and certainly Irish-Americans and New York has embraced it too.
I have been to New York many times, but never on St Patrick’s Day. You really get a sense of how strong the Irish community is here and how proud they are of their Irish connections… New York is something special.

Leo Varadkar marches with his partner in the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York>

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Christina Finn


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