EASTCHESTER, N.Y. When Phil Denning left County Cavan, Ireland in 1962, he had $300 and a one-way ticket to Idlewild, now Kennedy Airport. On Sunday, the current Westchester resident will parade his established Eastchester roots and natural-born Irish heritage as the grand marshal in the St. Patricks Day Parade.
"If I had enough money in my pocket, I would have turned right around and gone back," Denning recalls about his first day in America. "In those days, you got off the plane in the middle of the landing strip and then I had to walk about a mile to the building carrying my suitcase. It was 8 degrees below zero."
But Denning stayed with his aunt and uncle in New Rochelle and three years later, met and married Mary Farrell, who hailed from County Offaly, Ireland.
"We only wound up having six children, three boys and three girls, and only 17 grandchildren," Denning said with a smile.
The Dennings moved to Eastchester in 1977. In between raising their family and working in the family-owned construction business, they still found time to become active in the Eastchester Irish American Social Club.
Now Denning will lead the St. Patrick's Day Parade down White Plains Road on Sunday afternoon starting at 3 p.m.
Denning said he will walk the parade route accompanied by his three sons, Michael, PJ and Neal. His wife Mary passed away in 2010.
"I am very excited about the parade," Denning said. "In 2006, Mary was the first woman grand marshal and she walked the whole route in her high heels."
Eastchester Irish American Social Club President Stephen Doherty said the parade is organized and funded by the cultural group.
"Our mission is to keep and spread the love and honor of our Irish heritage and culture, especially for our children," Doherty said. "Phil Denning is a shining example of that mission."
Although Denning has served as a trustee and a past president, he will be leading the parade that had 12 marching bands and 22 groups at last count.
"It is a great honor to me to be the grand marshal," Denning said. "I never expected to be asked, but I am happy that I was."
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