Matt Hannon, chairman of this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade, couched the situation in the sort of terms the Irish like to use. It had become, he said, an embarrassing little tempest in a teapot for the local Irish community on the eve of their big parade.
The tempest began brewing earlier this week with the full emotional force usually generated whenever Irishmen begin discussing the Irish-English differences.
And so far it has seen Hannon calling a canon from the Washington Cathedral "about as vindictive a man as I have ever seen;" the retired cardinal archbishop of Washington withdrawing his support for the parade, then giving it back, and one Irish group charging that its name has been smeared.
Meanwhile, members of the various other Irish culture groups in the city are complaining that the annual St. Patrick's Day parade Sunday is turning from a family affair and fun event into a forum for political confrontation.
The controversy really began after last year's parade when Hannon thought it would be a nice gesture to invite Canon Michael Hamilton of Washington Cathedral - a native of Northern Ireland - to offer the invocation at the parade, whose marchers include mostly Irish-American Catholics:
Hamilton saw among the marchers a group called the Irish Northern Aid Committee, whose members, he claims, provide financial support to the Irish Republican Army.
This year, Hamilton again was invited to give the invocation. But the canon told Hannon that he "could not agree to bless the work of such a group (theaid committee)." Then Hamilton began writing letters to honorary sponsorsof the parade, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, Rep. Michael Harrington, Patrick Hayes, managing director of the Washington Performing Arts Society and Patrick Cardinal O'Boyle, the retired archbisop, suggesting that they, too, withdraw their support.
Hamilton also included with his letter a newspaper clipping that reported that the Irish Northern Aid Committee was one of the American groups that support the Irish Republican Army.
Kennedy, Harrington and Hayes remained silent on the Hamilton letter. But the reclusive, 82 year-old Archbishop issued a statement Monday that he was withdrawing his name as a parade patron because members of Irish Northern Aid would be marching.
Irish Northern Aid members responded by saying their group never intended to march in Sunday's parade anyway. Mary Baggarly, the group's spokewoman, said the membership decided last fall that the money the group normally spends on costumes and a parade float would be better spent on the families of political prisoners in Ireland.
Although the Justice Department hasinvestigated Irish Northern Aid for possible gun-running to the Irish Republican Army, Baggarly contends that the group's fund-raising is strictly for the support of dependents of political prisoners.
"We are constantly being attacked," said Northern Aid member Jack O'Brien. "The only time we get in the papers is when we're getting smeared."
Cardinal O'Boyle, satisfied that Irish Northern Aidwould not be marching Sunday, issed a terse statement Wednesday through the Catholic chancery here, saying that he had "no further objection to being listed as a (parade) patron."
Hannon said yesterday that he is happy the parade "is back in the good graces of the cardinal," but he had harsh words for Hamilton.
"Here is a man of the cloth who is as vindictive a man as I have ever seen . . . He said if Irish Northern Aid marched in the parade, he'd walk off the reviewing stand. Hannon said tha tis why he decided to withdraw his invitation to Hamilton.
But Northern Aid member Bill draw his invitation to Hamilton. Fleming had harsh words for the cardinal. "You're damn right I'm a Catholic but his (O'Boyle's action) angers me . . . Why is the Catholic Church telling me what to feel politically?"
Hamilton, meanwhile, who says that he is sympathetic to the Catholic cause in Protestant-dominated Northern Ireland, says he is pleased with his private protest against Irish Northern Aid.
"I'd like to see (a protest) get going in New York and Boston," said the 51-year-old canon.
As for the withdrawal of his invitation, Hamilton said that "I'm sorry he (Hannon) prefers to have proviolent groups in his parade and rejects a moderate like me who has been a strong supporter of the Irish Catholic position in the north of Ireland."
But, says Hannon, "Our parade is a family affair . . . it's not political."
Whatever, the parade itself will start at 2 p.m. at 7th Street NW and proceed west along Constitution Avenue to 17th Street, the dispersal point.