UPPER DARBY >> The week, thus far, has been a whirlwind for Barney Boyce of Upper Darby. Ever since the 82-year-old longtime Delaware County resident was named grand marshal of the 247th Philadelphia St Patrick’s Day Parade, excitement and anticipation have filled every corner of every room at the Boyce home. The parade will take place this Sunday, March 12, from noon-3 p.m.
“He’s been walking on air ever since the announcement was made,” laughed his wife of 52 years, Carmel, who will be at his side throughout the week’s festivities, just as she always is.
On Wednesday, Boyce was honored in Media by Delaware County Council with a resolution in his honor. Today, Boyce will be honored again, with a breakfast in the office of Philadelphia Councilman Bobby Henon and a resolution presented by Philadelphia City Council. He will then report to a select Philadelphia City Council Room to participate in the 15 Ring of Honor where he will be recognized along with 14 others selected by parade President William Ivers for their contributions toward the success of the 2017 St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the second-oldest Irish-American parade in the entire United States.
The honoree will then participate in a Irish Patriot’s Wreath Laying Ceremony, followed by a ceremony in the office of Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney who will issue a proclamation declaring March as Irish Heritage Month. The night will be capped off with a 6 p.m. “Sashing of the Grand Marshal Dinner” at Sugar House Casino where he will be officially sashed.
It will all be in a day’s work for Boyce, whose active lifestyle could tire even those half his age. He was chosen as grand marshal by the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee for his longtime commitment and leadership in the local Irish-American community. At least two dozen letters were written to the nomination committee, seeking the honor for Boyce who has worked his entire life for Irish causes.
“This year’s Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be bigger and better than ever before,” he said. “There are 178 units participating this year. It’s going to be a great parade!”
Cumulatively, Boyce has served over 30 terms on boards or in positions of leadership for many organizations in the Philadelphia Irish-American community, including the Commodore Barry Club, the Irish Center, the Donegal Football Club, and the Danny Browne AOH Division 80. He has also been active in the Philadelphia GAA, the Library, Ceili groups, the Donegal Ball, Northern Aid and the Knights of Columbus. Both he and Carmel and their family have been recognized for their dedication and preservation of Irish culture through the years. The Boyce family was inducted into the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame in 2005. Boyce was recognized for his longtime commitment to the Philadelphia Donegal Football Club in 2007. Both Barney and Carmel were honored in the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade Ring of Honor in 2009. In 2011, Carmel, and daughter Karen were honored as Inspirational Irish Women in the Delaware Valley. Carmel and Barney were also chosen as “2012 People of the Year” by the AOH Dennis Kelly Division.
“My father and mother brought their hospitality and charm to the states many years ago, and today they are representatives of Ireland, of the people of Donegal, and of the Philadelphia Irish community,” their daughter Karen McCollum of Broomall explained. “Their dedication to their family, faith, community and heritage make them exemplary role models for others in our community.”
Boyce was born and raised in Mallymore, Milford, Donegal, Ireland, before coming to Upper Darby where he has lived for 60 years. After arriving to the USA in 1957, Barney was drafted into the United States Army where he served in Germany for two years. Upon his return, he met Carmel Crossan of Trentagh, Letterkenny, Donegal. The two Donegal natives married in 1965 and settled in their current home where they raised their six children: Brian, John, Jimmy, Colleen, Michael, and Karen.
Professionally, Barney owned and operated his own roofing company until his retirement in 2007. Carmel is a registered Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and a geriatric caregiver. Both Barney and Carmel are longtime members of the Donegal Association of Philadelphia, and have held various roles on the association’s board. Barney was both president and vice president, and Carmel held the position of vice president.
The couple smiled as they spoke of their 48 years of parade participation. Since they belonged to both the Commodore Barry Association and the 129-year-old Donegal Association of Philadelphia, the couple would march up the parade route with one group and down the route with another.
Barney and Carmel raised their family in an environment of Irish culture, and many of the Boyce children and 19 grandchildren have continued to promote and preserve Irish music, traditions, faith, family and heritage. Sons Michael and John are members of the popular Celtic rock band, Blackthorn. Son Brian plays the accordion and other instruments professionally for Irish dance competitions nationwide, son Jimmy plays violin and supports Irish culture. Daughter Colleen is an Irish dancer. Daughter-in-law Tara, John’s wife, owns McHugh School of Irish Dance in Glen Mills. Three of their sons and their two daughters have all taken Irish dance lessons through the years. Many of the Boyce’s grandchildren are also Irish dancers and Gaelic football players.
Daughter Karen plays the fiddle and will sing the Irish National Anthem in Gaelic at Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, 20th and Locust streets, Philadelphia, at the 9:30 a.m. Mass, preceding the parade on Sunday. The Mass will also feature the St. James Alumni Association Choir, the Blue and Gray Voices, as well as a procession of the parade’s grand marshal and board members, along with the Emerald City Pipe Band.
The entire Boyce family will march behind the Fox29 sponsored Ford car carrying Barney, the family patriarch. The leader of the pack will be followed by the Philadelphia Emerald Society Pipe Band, Enda Kenney, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland, Barbara Jones, Consul General of Ireland in New York, the 69th PA Irish volunteers, Joe McHugh, T.D. Minister of State For Diaspora and Overseas Development, and local police officers to whom the parade is dedicated. This year’s theme is “St. Patrick, Protect and Guide Our Police Officers.”
Delaware County connections loom big at this year’s parade, which has about 20,000 participants. The parade’s director Michael Bradley is a Havertown resident. Many groups and dancers from Delco will participate as well, including the Delaware County Gaels Athletic Club, the Cardinal O’Hara High School Marching Band, the St. James Alumni Association in Eddystone, the St. James Regional Catholic School in Ridley Park, the AOH-Black Jack Kehoe, Delaware County, Division #4, the Haverford High School Best Buddies, the McHugh School of Irsih Dance in Glen Mills, the McDade-Cara School of Irish Dance in Edgmont and the Irish Immigration Center in Upper Darby.
Even with the big day looming on Sunday, the Boyce family will also participate in Springfield’s Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Saturday, March 11. Barney and Carmel said that they plan to march with the Donegal Association.
Boyce said his extended family over in Ireland is as thrilled as his family in America about his parade honor. Boyce did a live long-distance interview on an Irish radio station on Tuesday. Ireland’s Donegal Daily and Donegal Democrat are among the newspapers that ran stories about the grand marshal, referring to the Boyce family as “one of Ireland’s treasures.”
“My sister called me from Ireland this week,” Boyce chuckled. “She said it’s all over in the papers there. She said, ‘I think more people know about you being in the parade over here than they do in Philadelphia.’”
The Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade will kick off at the staging area between 16th and 20th streets on JFK Boulevard. The parade will continue down JFK to City Hall, go down South 15th Street and then around City Hall until it gets to Market Street. From there, it will proceed all the way down Market to Penn’s Landing.
The parade will air live on Fox 29. Fox 29 will rerun the parade from 12 to 3 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. For more information about the 2017 Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, visit philadelphiastpatsparade.com/.
“Being chosen as the grand marshal is the greatest of honors,” Boyce said. “It’s also an extraordinary tribute to an ordinary man. I’m not a lawyer, a dignitary or a judge or anyone that you’d expect to lead such a grand parade. Instead, I am a family man who loves his heritage and wants to keep the Irish American culture and traditions alive. I am truly humbled by this opportunity and extremely grateful — and very, very excited!”