"When Irish Eyes are smiling, sure it's like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter you can hear the angels sing.
When Irish hearts are happy all the world seems bright and gay.
But when Irish eyes are smiling sure they'll steal your heart away."
Jim Rooney remembers the days when his father and mother, Dan and Patricia Rooney, would take him and his siblings to the St. Patrick's Day parade in Pittsburgh. And while he wasn't born yet, he has also heard the stories of when his father helped in the planning of the parade back in the 1950s, his love of all things Ireland and Pittsburgh coming together as one.
"I remember the stories of the parade when he really was one of the lead managers," said Jim Rooney. "My mother talked about how they would paint things for the floats in their house when they were a young couple and there would be green paint on the floor and how frustrated she was by the green paint, but she loved it. They would be painting shamrocks for the floats, and the green paint would be everywhere. They would start getting ready for the parade in February. It was one of their biggest offseason activities back then. It was big for the entire family, it was a special time for everyone.
"They would ride in the parade and throw out small footballs to people. That was the time when we were trying to sell tickets. All of the people from my family talked about how fun those days wee, how special it was, and how much work it was. There was nothing my father loved more than planning events."
His brother, Steelers President Art Rooney II, has some first-hand recollections of those fun days.
"I remember how exciting it was," said Art Rooney II. "There was a warehouse somewhere near Duquesne University where they stored the float. We would go there the night before the parade and see how it looked. There were a few times I had the opportunity to ride on it. We had little white footballs with a green stripe on them that we threw off the float. It takes me back to the old days, that's for sure."
In a fitting tribute to the man who helped plan the parade for years and who has had an immeasurable impact on the City of Pittsburgh and his beloved Ireland, this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Pittsburgh was dedicated to Rooney, the late Steelers Chairman and U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. The decision to dedicate the parade to an individual is a rare one, but one that touched the hearts of his family.
"It's a tremendous honor. It's very humbling," said Jim Rooney, who headed up the Rooney contingent taking part in the parade. "He is my dad, and we are still talking about him a year after his passing in a public way, and I can't help but be touched in a meaningful way. What excites me about all of these events that honor my father is they talked about things that he has done with the Rooney Rule, with Ireland and the peace process, the NFL and his accomplishments there. That is one way I would reflect on all of these different events, that it's about what he did for so many. The rest of my brothers and sisters are very excited about this. I am speaking for them, but I know everyone is moved and humbled by it."
Jim Rooney and other members of the Rooney family rode in a Steelers wrapped Ford truck, led by a flag barrier proudly waving the 'DMR' flag that was unveiled at Heinz Field during the season. The Steeline Drum Line and Steely McBeam took part in the parade in his honor, and those whose lives he touched held his memory close.
Pittsburgh's St. Patrick's Day parade was dedicated to Dan Rooney.
"The fact that the St. Patrick's Day parade is dedicated to Dan Rooney is entirely appropriate," said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. "The relationship between Ireland and the United States. The things he did for this community, his beloved Steelers. What he meant to Pennsylvania. The most important thing is what he meant to his family. Of all of the human qualities, there are so many things we should want to emulate in him. He was a wonderful human being."
The streets of Pittsburgh were a sea of green, but black and gold was abundant, as this year's parade t-shirt was black and gold for the first time ever, and paid homage to Rooney with a map of Ireland on the sleeve with 'Ambassador Rooney' overtop it. Those participating in the parade, and those lining the streets, also had Rooney in their hearts.
"I am very pleased to be here to mark this occasion," said David Stanton, Minister of State for Equality, Immigration and Integration for Ireland. "He was a great friend to us in Ireland. He had his own style of doing things. We would celebrate the Fourth of July there every year, which was amazing. He brought American sports to Ireland and that was fantastic.
"What he did for peace was crucial. He had that in his heart. He knew how valuable it was to live in peace on the island, and we have that now. There is peace. There is no conflict. It is marvelous to see."
It's unheard of for the parade to be dedicated to an individual, but when that person is Dan Rooney, the decision was easy. And in honor of Rooney, the official parade t-shirt is black and gold for the first time ever instead of the traditional green.
"This is the first time we have dedicated the parade to an individual," said Jeff 'Mac' McCafferty, Pittsburgh's St. Patrick's Day Parade Chairman. "I don't think you could pick out anybody in Pittsburgh that is more the fabric of Pittsburgh. I think it's a great thing for the city."