Philadelphia, a city bigger than Dublin, has chosen the son of a Donegal woman to be leader of its Saint Patrick’s Day Parade this year, an event watched by tens of thousands of people.
Dan Harrell, 79, nicknamed ‘Donegal Danny,’ whose mother, Agnes Bridget McDaid, emigrated to the US from Donegal, said he was very proud to be chosen as the parade’s Grand Marshall and even prouder of his Irish heritage.
“It’s humbling, a great honour, and believe me, I’ll be cherishing my mother’s memory and the great county of Donegal as I walk down the centre of Philadelphia. I’ll even have my mother’s Irish passport in my pocket, close to my heart.”
Dan is one of seven children – four brothers and two sisters – born to Agnes who grew up in Drimarone, close to Donegal Town, before emigrating to America in 1928 when she was a teenager, where she worked in various jobs including a department store and a college.
“I go back to Donegal as often as I can,” said Dan, who is father of six girls, Leonora, Colleen, Deborah, Melissa Jacquelyn and Erin. “I love the people, the way of life, the landscape around the Blue Stack Mountains and elsewhere in the county. It’s a warm, welcoming place. But sometimes I feel sad, thinking about how difficult it must have been for people like my mother back then to have to leave her beautiful homeland at such a young age to start a new life as an emigrant in another country. She was only fifteen.”
Dan, who is grandfather to seventeen grandchildren and has a great- granddaughter, still has relatives in the county, specially Jim and Bernadette Quinn who own a crane business in Donegal Town, whom he’ll see on his next visit across the Atlantic in April.
Dan, whose wife is Regina, enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve for six years while working for General Electric, then at the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his bachelor’s degree. Active in the Ancient Order of Hibernians, he was named AOH Man of the Year. He also coaches football and is heavily involved in the Society of Saint Anthony DiPadova and the Southwest Football Coaches Association and has awards in his honour at the University of Pennsylvania and Saint Malachy’s College Belfast. He also launched an exchange program which brings students from Ireland to the US every year.
“There’s no better person to fly the flags of Ireland and Donegal than Dan,” said friend, Bruno McBride. “He’s worked very hard for many years on Irish American activities.”
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